Hans Bellmer - Photographs London Tuesday, November 23, 2021 | Phillips

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  • 'Yes, my dolls were the beginning. Obviously, there was a convulsive flavour to them because they reflected my anxiety and unhappiness. To an extent they represented an attempt to reject the horrors of adult life as it was in favour of a return to the wonder of childhood, but the eroticism was all-important, they became an erotic liberation for me.' —Hans Bellmer

    In 1934 in his native Germany, Hans Bellmer (1902-1975) began to experiment with his life-size doll sculptures, constructing them from wood, plaster, metal rods, nuts and bolts. A year later, he published Die Puppe (reprinted in French as La Poupée in 1936), a book of ten gelatin silver prints, documenting his first doll in different poses and stages of construction. This caused a stir among the Surrealists in Paris and led to 18 doll photographs appearing in the Surrealist review Minotaure in December of that same year. In 1935, Bellmer constructed a second doll – this time using ball joints for greater mobility and manipulation – which he then photographed in various scenarios and acts of dismemberment. A small publication without text of probably less than ten copies – sometimes called La Poupée 2 – was made in late 1936/early 1937 and mostly given to friends.


    When Bellmer moved to Paris in 1938, he was embraced by the surrealist group who recognised his doll as the perfect surrealist object. Delayed by the advent of the Second World War, Bellmer’s seminal publication Les Jeux de la poupée was eventually released in Paris in November 1949. A far more sophisticated endeavour than his previous books, Les Jeux included 15 delicately hand-coloured gelatin silver prints, accompanied by poems by French poet and one of the leading voices in the surrealist movement Paul Éluard. Meticulously staged and dramatically lit in both interior and exterior settings, the doll is the protagonist in Bellmer’s ‘games’ that are at once erotic and nightmarish. While the majority of these volumes have been broken up, the current lot is a rare example of a complete book, presented as Bellmer and Éluard had originally envisioned.

    • Literature

      Album Surréaliste, Tokyo: Mizué, 1937, pl. 10
      Bellmer, Obliques, Paris, 1975, pp. 96 (variant), 98, 100-104
      J. C. Gateau, Paul Éluard et la peinture surréaliste: 1910-1939, Geneva: Librairie Droz, 1982, p. 329
      J. Mundy et al., Surrealism: Desire Unbound, New Jersey: Princeton, 2001, pp. 212, 214-215
      S. Taylor, Hans Bellmer: The Anatomy of Anxiety, Cambridge: MIT, 2000, pls. 4.3, 4.6, 4.7, 4.9, 4.12, 4.14, 4.16-18, 4.20 (variants)
      M. Green, Hans Bellmer: The Doll, London: Altas, 2005, p. 91


Les Jeux de la poupée

Paris: Les Éditions Premières, 1949. 15 mounted, hand-coloured gelatin silver prints, plus 2 trimmed, hand-coloured gelatin silver prints, one mounted on title page and the other on front cover. Text by Paul Éluard. Original dark grey card wrappers with printed wraparound band. Colophon, signed in pencil and number-stamped '96'. Number 96 from an edition of 136, plus 6 hors-commerce proofs.
Each image: approx. 14 x 14 cm (5 ½ x 5 ½ in.)
Book: 25.4 x 19.7 x 1.3 cm (10 x 7 3/4 x 1/2 in.)

Full Cataloguing

£50,000 - 70,000 ‡♠

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London Auction 23 November 2021