Saturday, March 10, 2012

Creative Process Journal: Les Jeux de la Poupee (The Doll's Games)

Les jeux de la poupee by Hans Bellmer 1949  
Hans Bellmer (1902-1975) was a German artist, who used self-crafted life sized dolls assembled from a range of materials in photographs which explored erotic themes. He hand-coloured the images and published ten of them in a book in 1934. Bellmer made a second doll in 1935 using the head and hands from the first doll and also incorporating a number of ball and socket joints which allowed the doll to be manipulated into a variety of contortions. The doll had interchangeable limbs and other parts, as well as an extensive wardrobe. He photographed this work in 1935 but it was not published until 1949, in part because his work was considered 'Degenerate' by the Nazis (Wood 316). Bellmer's is associated with the Surrealist movement, and after moving to Paris in 1938, he spent some time in an interment camp in the south of France alongside Max Ernst.

Various authors have suggested two sources of inspiration for Bellmer's work. In 1931, Bellmer attended Max Reinhardt's production of The Tales of Hoffman in which there is a mechanical girl/doll named Olympia who seduces a living man (Freud also mentioned this literary work in his essay The Uncanny). As well, Bellmer's mother apparently sent him a box of childhood toys which included broken dolls (Sulick 14). Whatever the inspiration, Bellmer was not the only artist using dolls or mannequins at the time. Man Ray, Max Ernst, Marcel Duchamp, Andre Masson and others all incorporated dolls into their artistic practice around this time.

I find Bellmer's photographs disturbing, but also strangely fascinating. The bizarre range of contortions and dismembered limbs are haunting, but as abstract forms, the images are striking in their virtuosity of composition.


Sulick, Amber Rae. Hans Bellmer's "Les Jeux De La Poupee". Ed. Hans Bellmer and Joint Graduate Program in Photographic Preservation and Collections Management, 2008.

Wood, Ghislaine. Surreal Things: Surrealism and Design. London: V&A Publications, 2007.

P.S. The Canadian Opera Company is performing The Tales of Hoffman in their spring production lineup (April 10 - May 14, 2012). I plan on attending. For more information, visit the COC website here.

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