Hans Bellmer, ‘Les jeux de la poupée (The Games of the Doll)’, 1949, Phillips

From the Catalogue:
Covered in soft black construction paper adorned with a feminine pink title band, and filled with delicate pages accentuated by rapturously colored photographs, Hans Bellmer’s Les jeux de la poupée (The Games of the Doll) is the perfect Surrealist object. Bellmer began to experiment with his disquieting dolls in 1934—originally crafted from wood, broom-handles, metal rods, nuts and bolts, and plaster—before forming the second iteration which was constructed using ball joints for greater mobility and manipulation. Photographed from 1936 to 1938 in his native Germany, Bellmer then fled to Paris, where famed fellow Surrealist Paul Éluard selected fourteen images to be compiled into a book that would couple Bellmer’s vibrantly hand colored photographs with extensive text written by Éluard. A small edition titled Poupée II was created, but with the advent of the Second World War its publication was brought to a halt. A larger edition, published by Éditions Premières in Paris as Les jeux de la poupée was released a decade later in an edition of 136. While the great majority of these books have been broken up, the current lot is a rare example of a complete book, presented as Bellmer and Éluard had originally intended it.

Les jeux de la poupée dives deep into the realm of the uncanny. The doll, never anatomically complete, and clearly constructed from artificial parts, nonetheless evokes fear and sympathy from the viewer who cannot help but feel empathy for this tragic figure. Photography, with its unbreakable tie to the real, plays a significant role in the Doll's surreal power, in what scholars Rosalind Krauss and Jane Livingston describe as “the seeming contradiction between the extravagant productions of the unconscious and the documentary deadpan of the camera.”

The prints placed within the book feature Bellmer’s doll posed in a series of sinister narrative tableaus, however on the cover Bellmer placed a print that has been trimmed to the edges of the doll itself, divorcing her from an semblance of reality. A nearly abstract form composed of two hips joined by a large ball-joint, lit from opposing sides and colored pink and yellow, the self-contained form appears a duality—conscious and unconscious, reality and fantasy. Like a reoccurring, effusive dream, we are greeted by another trimmed print on the cover page, a twin of the doll on the cover who has followed us into the book’s depths. Regarding Bellmer’s book is like walking through a stranger’s home in the dark. Each step is carefully taken through this strange, unsettling environment, and perhaps we yearn for the comfort of the familiar, but drawn in by Bellmer’s exquisite Surrealist mastery, we cannot bring ourselves to look away.
Courtesy of Phillips

Signature: Signed in pencil and stamped number '28' on the last page of book. Text by Paul Éluard.

Obliques, Bellmer, pp. 96 (varient), 98, 100-104
Princeton University Press, Surrealism: Desire Unbound, pp. 212, 214-215
Taylor, Hans Bellmer: The Anatomy of Anxiety, pls. 4.3, 4.6, 4.7, 4.9, 4.12, 4.14, 4.16-18, 4.20 black and white variants

Librairie Fourcade, Paris

About Hans Bellmer

Hans Bellmer adopted his controversial practice—the creation of provocative, often grotesque sculptures of pubescent female dolls—in the 1930s to rebel against the artistic rules and standards of beauty imposed by the Nazi government. After moving to Berlin in 1923, Bellmer became close with the Dada artists, particularly George Grosz, a politically minded painter who furthered Bellmer’s distrust of government. Fearing that his art would be outlawed by the Nazis as “degenerate”, in 1934 Bellmer sought acceptance abroad with André Breton and the French Surrealists, who embraced his work for its revolutionary nature and libidinous engagement with female youth. In addition to his sculptures, Bellmer produced prints, photographs, and drawings, always dealing with themes of abject sexuality and forbidden desire. Also a writer, he referred to his doll projects as “experimental poetry”.

German, 1902-1975, Katowice, Poland