“The body resembles a sentence that seems to invite us to dismantle it into its component letters, so that its true meanings may be revealed ever anew through an endless stream of anagrams.”
Hans Bellmer (13 March 1902 - 23 February 1975) was a German surrealist. He is most famous for his life sized articulate dolls but was also a visionary when it came to his draftsmanship and the majority of his drawings explored surreal realms of eroticism.
Hans Bellmer was in Germany during early 1900s, which was a very unfortunate time and place to be for an erotic artist. In 1927 the Nationalsozialistische Gesellschaft für deutsche Kultur (National Socialist Society for German Culture) was formed as an offshoot of the Nazi party. The purpose of this society was to oppose what it saw as the corruption of art, essentially all modern art.
'If the origin of my work is scandalous, it is because, for me, the world is a scandal."
At that time Bellmer was working as a professional draftsman for an advertising company. In objection to the Nazi party's fascist views on art and culture, and due to various other circumstances in his life at the time, he constructed a life size articulated doll which he then photographed in various positions before publishing the series of photos as a very small portfolio entitled "Die Puppe" in 1934. The series was visually proactive and eerily grotesque.
Despite the portfolio purposefully being the opposite of what was considered acceptable art, it became very popular, particularly in France.
As part of the Nazi's oppression, in 1937 over 5000 works of "degenerate" art were taken from museums, galleries and private collections from across Germany. Surprisingly, these works were not immediately destroyed. Instead, around 650 examples were chosen for an exhibition entitled "Entartete Kunst" (Degenerate Art). The purpose of the exhibition was to mock and discredit the artists and their art. The art pieces were crammed on the walls with no care, some not even framed, and around them were posted Nazi propaganda and derogatory statements about the art and the artists. A few weeks after the opening, over 11,000 more "degenerate" works of art were seized from all over the country. Some sources say at least 21,000 works of art were seized in total. After the exhibition, many of the paintings were sold off outside of Germany, and some of exceptional value (at least in monetary terms) were kept by the Nazi party including paintings by Van Gogh and Cezanne.
Bellmer, being the rebel that he was, continued to produce portfolios of his dolls despite Nazi oppression. I can find no record of Bellmer's work being confiscated, though undoubtedly he suffered harassment for his art, and eventually moved to France in 1938 after his wife's death.
Bellmer spent the rest of his life in Paris, even after the Second World War ended. Despite being the theme which he is famous for, he didn't linger long on doll-making and instead focused on erotic drawings, paintings and etchings.
There are two notable series of etching he made in the 1960s. The first was "A Sade" in 1962, and then "Petit Traité de Morale" in 1968. Both of these works were inspired by the stories of the Marquis de Sade, who Bellmer is known to have admired.
"I admire de Sade very much, especially his idea that violence towards the loved one can tell us more about the anatomy of desire than the simple act of love, but I find I can't read very much of his work. I prefer the poems of Baudelaire, the stories of Lewis Carroll..."
Though his choice of role models leaves much to be desired, Bellmer was undoubtedly incredibly skilled in his craft and his vision.