German artist Hans Bellmer (b. 1902, Kattowitz, Germany; d. 1975, Paris, France) experimented with Surrealist sculptural forms in the early decades of the 20th century. He sustained a lifelong fascination with images of manipulated, contorted, disfigured or bound forms of girls and women in drawings, paintings, photograph, and sculptures. He was best known for his life size dolls resembling disassembled mannequins, which he developed in response to the Nazi regime’s obsession with physical perfection.
Born in Germany in 1902, Bellmer began his career as a draughtsman in his own advertising agency. He began producing his dolls as a rebellion against the authority of his father and the rising fascist state. These biomorphic, but purposefully disturbing forms, often had multiple limbs growing out of one another, appeared headless or missing body parts, and were often presented nude in vaguely sexual poses. When the Nazis declared his work degenerate, he fled to France, where he found artistic camaraderie with the Surrealist circle led by André Breton. During the early years of the war, he aided the French resistance by producing fake passports and was briefly imprisoned at Camp des Milles at Aix-en-Provence. Ultimately he settled in Paris for the remainder of his life. Following the war he abandoned doll making; his post-war work focused on photographs, etchings and paintings of pubescent girls in sexually explicit positions or contexts. His depictions of women were simultaneous monstrous, sexualized and dream-like – themes that confirmed his place in the Surrealist movement.
Bellmer had significant solo exhibitions beginning in the early 1960s, at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; the Centre Pompidou, Paris; the International Center of Photography, New York; and many other institutions. His objects, photographs, and prints continue to lure a wide array of collectors.