Lot 137
  • 137

Hans Bellmer

100,000 - 150,000 USD
Log in to view results
bidding is closed


  • Hans Bellmer
  • gelatin silver print
mounted, signed in red ink on the mount, inscribed ‘La Poupée, par Hans Bellmer’ and initialed by André Breton in red ink and stamped ‘27’ and ‘792’ on paper labels on the reverse, framed, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D. C., and Museum of Modern Art, New York, exhibition labels and an Ubu Gallery label on the reverse, 1934


The collection of André Breton, Paris
Calmels Cohen, Paris, André Breton, 42, rue Fontaine, 15 April 2003, Lot 5042
Acquired from Ubu Gallery, New York, 2004


Paris, Musée national d’art modern/Centre Georges Pompidou, André Breton, la beauté convulsive, 1991
Washington, D. C., National Gallery of Art, Foto: Modernity in Central Europe, June - September 2007
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, The Original Copy: Photography of Sculpture, August - October 2010: and traveling to Kunsthaus Zürich, February - May 2011


Andre Breton, la beauté convulsive (Centre Georges Pompidou, 1991), p. 316 (this print)
Foto: Modernity in Central Europe (Washington, D. C.: National Gallery of Art, 2007), pl. 58 (this print)
Die Puppe (Karlsruhe: Thomas Eckstein, 1934), pl. 3 (reversed)
Minotaure, No. 6, Winter 1934, p. 30
Alain Jouffroy, Bellmer (William and Noma Copley Foundation, nd. [1961]), pl. 3 (reversed) 
Peter Webb and Robert Short, Hans Bellmer (London, 1985), pl. 34 (reversed)


This print is on double-weight paper with a very glossy surface. It is essentially in excellent condition. The surface is sufficiently glossy to suggest that the print has been ferrotyped, but it lacks the uneven gloss or slightly "crazed" look that ferrotyped prints frequently have. The glossy surface accentuates the detail in the photograph, and the doll in particular is rendered with great, unsettling, clarity. When examined very closely in high raking light, some light scuffs can be seen on the print's surface; these are inconsequential and do not break the emulsion. The photograph has lifted very slightly from the mount in the upper corners and in one small spot on the top edge; this can only be seen upon close examination. The photograph is mounted to stiff board. A rectangular sheet of paper, smaller than the mount, has been affixed to the reverse of the mount, and Breton's notations, and the numerical stamps appear on this. On the reverse of the mount, and the top edge, is a thin strip of modern paper tape along the top edge.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

This arresting and enigmatic Hans Bellmer self-portrait is from the series of photographs he made in 1933 and ’34, in Berlin, documenting the construction of his first Doll figure.  Bellmer published this image in his 1934 book, Die Puppe, which included 10 sequentially-ordered photographs of the figure’s creation.  Also in that year, he sent these photographs, through his cousin, to Paris, where they were shown to André Breton, from whose collection this print comes.  Breton was immediately impressed, and with Paul Eluard, published a suite of 18 Bellmer photographs, including this self-portrait, in the Winter 1934 number of the Surrealist journal Minotaure, under the title ‘Variations sur le montage d’une mineure articulée’ (‘Variations on the assemblage of an articulated minor’). 

Bellmer began work on the Doll in 1933, with the goal of ‘construct[ing] an artificial girl with anatomical possibilities which were capable of re-creating the heights of passion even to inventing new desires’ (quoted in Webb, p. 29).  Infused with his own brand of high-concept eroticism, Bellmer had next to deal with the logistical challenge of creating a figure that would, in its appearance and articulation, meet his high standards.  Working with his engineer brother, Fritz, Bellmer first constructed a wooden armature with hinged joints.  This was slowly and carefully covered with flax fiber and plaster and shaped to resemble a human form, and then fitted with an eerily convincing plaster face.  The photographs in Die Puppe document the transition of the work from wooden ‘skeleton’ to the disconcertingly lifelike finished figure.  Like the self-portrait, several images show preliminary designs for the Doll hung on the studio wall.  In these photographs, the Doll is indisputably an artificial thing, yet it is close enough, in some of its aspects, to a living being that its appearance is truly uncanny.  In the photograph offered here, for example, the Doll seems to react to Bellmer’s presence, and the viewer cannot help but project a narrative onto the image.  It was part of Bellmer’s genius that he knew how to use photography not solely as a documentary device, but more importantly as a tool to infuse his creation with life.

Ultimately, Bellmer and his brother created a mannequin that was both a fascinating simulacrum and, surprisingly, a viewing device.  As a way of imbuing the Doll with an inner life, Fritz conceived the idea of installing a ‘panorama’ within the Doll’s stomach.  This circular device housed several painted scenes which could be viewed by peering through the Doll’s navel.  The viewer advanced to the next scene by pressing a button on the Doll’s left nipple. In the present photograph, the compartment for the as-yet uninstalled panorama can be seen.   

Although Bellmer officially joined the Surrealists in the 1930s, he conducted his earliest work with the Doll, and executed his photographs of it, in Berlin, in isolation from the movement.  Yet the complete novelty of the Doll, and its exuberantly transgressive qualities, made it an object of fascination for the Surrealists.  As Webb notes, ‘Looking for the first time at the photographs of Bellmer’s Doll, Breton, Eluard and their friends were confronted with the archetypal surrealist object.  An ostensibly innocent toy had been snatched from the hallowed, protected domain of the nursery, enlarged to child size, and converted into a garish fetish that arouses the most ambiguous, unavowable, and palpably erotic desires.  No surrealist object is more pregnant with riddles’ (Webb, p. 44). 

This is the only image from this series of photographs in which Bellmer himself appears.  While the artificial Doll is rendered here with solid clarity, the artist himself – who was in the frame for just a portion of the photograph’s total exposure time – is only half-present as a translucent, enigmatic form.