Le corselet de Sade is one of the most emblematic images of the whole of Hans Bellmer's graphic and Surrealist œuvre. This particular motif can be dated as early as 1943 and was used to illustrate his great aesthetic treaty Anatomy of the Image published in 1957, in which the artist exposes his sources of inspiration from a psychoanalytic and erotic framework, and which was positively received by the likes of André Breton and Jöe Bousquet. Visually evoking Bellmer's iconic Poupées, this theme is further explored in a drawing presented by the artist to Max Ernst, his friend from the Camp des Mille, where the two German artists were held prisoners at the beginning of the Second World War.
The same motif was developed in a series of studies and a gouache entitled Corselet-Bastille of 1948 (Hans Bellmer, Anatomie du désir (exhibition catalogue), Centre Pompidou, Paris, 2006, no. 147). Bellmer discovered the work of the multi-faceted intellectual Marquis de Sade around the same period, a source of inspiration for the artist. Bellmer created as many as 47 drawings to illustrate Sade's heavily erotic La Philosphie dans le Boudoir, though the project was never completed. In 1949, Bellmer met the gallery owner and art publisher Marcel Zerbib, who, the following year, published Sade's Justine ou les infortunes de la vertu featuring a preface by Bataille and a frontispiece by Bellmer. These projects and Bellmer's relationship to the most prominent intellectuals and artists of the time, mark his fruitful production and interest in shocking the the traditionalists of the time, making him one of the most avant-garde figures in the Modern history of art. This oil previously belonged to two of the German artist's great supporters, the gallery owner Marcel Zerbib, and William Copley, the American artist, collector, and dealer who provided one of the first platforms for Surrealist art in Los Angeles.
Wieland Schmied aptly states that 'for Bellmer, the realm of Eros and its artistic renditions provided the only possible rebellion against a world careering down a false trail by its reliance on rationalism and causality. His work and beliefs revolted against an existence that struggled under the oppression of reason. As he himself explained, "If the origin of my work is scandalous, it is because, for me, the world is a scandal". In a life constrained by prejudices and prohibitions, erotic experience in the realm of art became an outlet of unconditional truth. If Paul Cézanne claimed that art is a harmony parallel to nature, Bellmer exceeded him with a more radical epigram: art is a revolt parallel to eroticism' (ibid., p. 24). The clean, controlled, and minutely executed lines constituting the shape of the corset, an emblem of female subjugation and heavy with erotic associations, almost hypnotise the viewer through movement and transition. Bellmer departs from the imagery of a restricting corset, exploring the boundaries of the theme by contradicting its original function as an object through its blown-up form. With a Minimalist twist, Bellmer seems to prefigure the popular Op-Art of the Sixties and sexual undertones in which he successfully reveals 'the desires of Eros as a parable of creativity' (ibid.).
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