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Marquis de Sade

Hans Bellmer was a Surrealist German artist and photographer. Born in 1902 and initially working in the fields of advertising and graphic design before transitioning to fine art, Bellmer’s first major project was also one of his best-known – Die Puppe, or a group of life-sized and sexualized pubescent female dolls. The goal of this first project was to oppose Nazi fascism by not creating anything that would support the Third Reich, which he attempted to achieve by criticizing and commenting on the cult of the perfect body which existed in the German state at the time.

He took inspiration for his doll project from a variety of places, including reading the published letters of Austrian poet and playwright Oskar Kokoschka and attending a performance of Jacques Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffman in which a man falls in love with an automaton. He began to physically construct his first doll in 1933, which stood approximately 56 inches tall. In 1934 Bellmer anonymously published a book, The Doll (Die Puppe), which contained 10 black-and-white photographs of the doll arranged in a series of tableaux. Also in 1934, photographs of his doll appeared in the Surrealist journal Minotaure with the title “Poupée: Variations sur le montage d’une mineure articulée”. The doll was shown in some cases with sexualized props including a black veil, lacy undergarments, or flowers, or in some photos simply as a pile of doll parts. Of the doll, Bellmer wrote, “It was worth all my obsessive efforts when, amid the smell of glue and wet plaster, the essence of all that is impressive would take shape and become a real object to be possessed.” (Bellmer, 1934)

Bellmer was eventually declared a degenerate artist and was forced to flee Germany for France, where he was welcomed into the Surrealist circles there. He gave up doll-making but spent the rest of his life continuing to push sexual and erotic boundaries with a variety of explicit drawings, etchings, photographs, paintings, and prints of pubescent girls. F.A. Bernett currently has in its inventory an important work from this period of Bellmer’s creative life.

À Sade comprises a portfolio of ten incredibly explicit and surrealistic erotic etchings inspired by and in homage to the Marquis de Sade, the famous French libertine best known for his pornographic writings which emphasize violence, suffering, and blasphemy. The etchings are remarkable examples of Bellmer’s obsessive and meticulous treatment of the body especially the female form – limbs, genitalia, eyes, breasts, and buttocks are distorted or conflated, combining desire and horror in a way typical of both Bellmer’s work and de Sade’s.

Bellmer, Hans. À Sade. Unpaginated portfolio including title page, colophon, and ten explicit and detailed etchings inspired by the erotic writings of the Marquis de Sade, most plates approx. 7 7/8″ x 5 7/8″, each printed on 15″ x 11 1/16″ sheet, housed in separate blank folder with guard sheet, all signed in pencil by the artist. Contents loose as issued, in wrpps. portfolio, laid into cloth folder and slipcase. N.p. 1961. No. 30 of an edition of 50. (47737)

 Although published anonymously, our research shows that it was published in Paris by Alain Mazo. Incredibly scarce; as of April 2018, WorldCat locates only one copy in a German library and none in North America.

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