Hans Bellmer - Editions & Works on Paper New York Thursday, October 22, 2020 | Phillips
  • "A precious and disturbing work" —François Chapon, authorHans Bellmer was German and a Surrealist, his depictions of provocative sexuality and subversive desire were created in response to the Nazi government’s official standards of beauty, which labeled artists as degenerate if they did not conform. In 1924 while living in Berlin, he abandoned his studies and began a typographic apprenticeship learning how to print books and illustrate at the Malik publishing house, a leftist book and periodical publisher with ties to the Dada movement. Between 1925-26, he opened a studio for advertising drawings in Berlin and, from then on, created almost only erotic subjects - a violent undercurrent and backlash to the new notions of ideal body and political forms which did not allow for variation of individual expression. He also started making fragmentary mannequins, of which he photographed and is most known for today. Eventually he escaped to France and joined the Surrealists and was regarded as ‘the Dürer of Surrealism’ a main exponent of ‘Fantastic Realism’ - artists who combined the painterly precision of the old masters with an interest in modern art movements and psychoanalysis. Their images were dreamlike visions from the subconscious painted in a realistic manner and rooted in the traumatic experiences of the war, from which the artists attempted to escape in their fantastical paintings.


    Œillades ciselées en branche (Glances Cut on the Branch) was Bellmer’s first illustrated book and has been much written about and exhibited. The small book is a collection of poems written by Georges Hugnet surrounded by Bellmer’s illustrations and dedicated to their wives Margaret Bellmer and Germaine Hugnet and the pages sprayed with perfume.


    Equal recognition of collaboration must be given to Surrealist artist, poet, bookbinder Georges Hugnet, who wrote the delicate text juxtaposed alongside Bellmer’s drawings and also had a bookbinding studio in Paris from the mid to late 1930’s. Hugnet made each of the unique pink and white doily covers with postcard collage for the edition, this one with a sweet rosebud.  But what makes this example truly unique and special is that Hugnet composed an additional page-long poem in pencil on one of the front pages relating to the imagery and was then additionally bound by Paul Bonet, one of the most important bookbinder’s of the 20th Century. Hugnet dedicated and gave this copy to Bonet who then made the covers (outside and in), the protective guard and the slipcase. Paul Bonet grew out of traditional, luxurious Art Deco binding into the new creative world of avant-garde poets and collectors; his work evolved to become ‘marked by the context’ and not decorate. Here he encases Bellmer’s and Hugnet’s gift in a mauvey-pink goatskin leather (Morocco) with a radiantly elaborate, colorful and abstract design. All in all, creating an ultimate ‘precious and disturbing work’ as François Chapon states in The Painter and the Book. The Golden Age of Illustrated Books in France (1870-1970).


    “The original French phrase, oeillades ciselées en branche, was borrowed from a sign in a market offering bunches of grapes still attached to branches from the vine.  Bellmer and Hugnet responded to the double meaning of "oeillades" — "bunches" and "glances"— especially since an oeillade can be an ogling glance, a leer. Embedded in this punning, found phrase are implications of the desiring male gaze and perhaps, too, wishes to "harvest" the budding girlhood sexuality that is the theme of the book.” Sue Taylor, Hans Bellmer in the Art Institute of Chicago: The Wandering Libido and the Hysterical Body

     "the systematic fusion of the thoughts of two or more authors in the same work..can also be considered as similar to a collage" —Max Ernst

    The golden age of Livres d’artiste (artist books) was centered in France from 1870-1970 with the Surrealist’s livres d’artiste being the most collaborative and provocative literary creations of all. Artists and authors engaged freely with words and imagery breaking technical and moral rules, illuminating subversion and desire. Vincent Gille in Love of Books, Love Books (Tate Modern, Surrealism, desire unbound, 2001-02) writes “No distinction can be drawn between the ‘love poems’ and ‘erotic’ texts of the surrealists, who celebrated carnal love to an extent that was unprecedented in the history of literary movements” and that “The value of surrealist writings as a form of testimony is apparent to anyone leafing through certain special copies, as a general rule intended by the author to be seen or owned by close friends, in which various rare documents (manuscripts, letters, photographs, drawings) with a direct or indirect relationship with the book are included. Such books are called in French ‘trufflés’ or ‘truffled’...These ‘truffles’ - whatever their nature - are signs of the reality at the core of which the story of the love affair is inscribed.” The ‘truffles’ in the present copy can be found in the perfumed pages which still carry a scent and Hugnet’s personal poem written in the front.

    "The painter looking at a poem is like the poet standing in front of a picture. He dreams, he imagines, he creates. And all of a sudden, lo and behold, the real object gives birth to the virtual object, which becomes real in its turn, and from one reality to another an image is constituted, just as one word leads to all the others. There is no mistaking the object any longer since everything is connected, in harmony, interchangeable and shown to best advantage." —Paul Eluard

    Other French livres d’artiste in this sale can be found by Picasso (lot 5), Joan Miro (lot 74), Salvador Dali (lot 81), Henri Matisse (lot 98) and another work by Hans Bellmer, a portfolio of 10 etchings called Petit traité de morale (A Little Moral Treat) (lot 83).

    • Provenance

      R. and B.L. Library (monogram in black ink inside front cover)
      Sotheby's and Binoche et Giquello, Paris, Bibliothèque R. et B.L. Dada - Surréalisme, April 27, 2016, lot 354
      Acquired from the above sale by the current private collector

    • Literature

      Editions Denoël 10
      Pierre Dourthe, Bellmer, le principe de perversion, pp. 88-97
      Sue Taylor, Hans Bellmer - The Wandering Libido and the Hysterical Body, The Art Institute of Chicago, May 2005
      Christian Derouet – Lehri, Jeanne Bucher. Une galerie d'avant-garde 1925-1946, p. 114, XXIII (couverture rose avec papier de boîte à dragées)
      Werner Spies, La Révolution surréaliste, pp. 249 and 444
      Jennifer Mundy, Surrealism, desire unbound: Love of Books, Love Books, Tate Modern, London, 2001-02, pp. 125-135
      Surrealism: Two Private Eyes, The Nesuhi Ertegun and Daniel Filipacchi Collections: Binding as Invention, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1999, pp. 812-815
      Kirstie Meehan, Between the Covers: Surrealist Erotica, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, September 2014
      Elza Adamowicz, The Surrealist Artist’s Book, Princeton University Library, 2009
      Riva Castleman, A Century of Artists Books, The Museum of Modern Art, 1994
      François Chapon, Le Peintre et le livre, L'âge d'or du livre illustré en France 1870-1970., 1987, p. 309
      Paul Bonet (bookbinder) Notebooks, n° 1101, described as 'a delicate binding'


Œillades ciselées en branche (Glances Cut on the Branch)

The complete set of 25 facsimilies of drawings, on perfumed China paper, with poems by Georges Hugnet and his pink and white lace paper cover with a chromo-litho collage of a rosebud, bound (as issued), additionally bound in an elaborate and colorful hand-tooled leather cover, paper and leather guard and matching slipcase by bookbinder Paul Bonet, stamp-signed and dated 1952.
5 1/2 x 4 x 5/8 in. (14 x 10.2 x 1.6 cm)
Signed 'á auteur Georges Hugnet' in pencil on the justification page, also dedicated 'à Paul Bonet, le palais des livres, amicalement, Georges Hugnet, avril 1941' on the title page and a full page of related text in pencil by the author (one of a few copies for the author, there were also 10 on scented azure paper with an original drawing, 20 on scented China and 200 on Rives), published by Editions Jeanne Bucher, Paris.

Full Cataloguing

$10,000 - 15,000 

Sold for $17,640

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Editions & Works on Paper

New York Auction 21 - 22 October 2020