Related themes


Surrealism and the Body

See how the Surrealists explored the human form and hidden desires.


Plate from La Poupée

Hans Bellmer
(German, 1902–1975)

1936. Gelatin silver print, 4 5/8 x 3" (11.7 x 7.6 cm)

The female mannequin in this photograph is utterly fragmented. Decapitated and dismembered, the figure has a glass eye placed nowhere near the head, legs splayed, and a tousled wig resting at the juncture between knee, head, and hip. This is one in a series of Hans Bellmer photographs that were published in the Surrealist publication Minotaure in 1934 depicting a female mannequin (La Poupée) in various stages of construction, from wood-and-metal skeleton to the fleshy plaster and papier-mâché shell. A system of ball joints allowed Bellmer to dismantle and reassemble the doll in many combinations. The doll was a lifetime obsession for the artist, who explored similar imagery in his drawings and sculptures.

Bellmer began creating and photographing these disturbing dolls in 1933, the year Adolf Hitler assumed power in Germany. Many have interpreted them as acts of political defiance against the ideals and social norms promoted by the Nazis, and expressions of the personal outrage he felt towards his father, who joined the Nazi party. Bellmer himself stated, “If the origin of my work is scandalous, it is because for me, the world is a scandal.”

A literary, intellectual, and artistic movement that began in Paris in 1924 and was active through World War II. Influenced by Sigmund Freud’s writings on psychology, Surrealists, led by André Breton, were interested in how the irrational, unconscious mind could move beyond the constraints of the rational world. Surrealism grew out of dissatisfaction with traditional social values and artistic practices after World War I.

French for “chewed-up paper,” a technique for creating three-dimensional objects, such as sculpture, from pulped or pasted paper and binders such as glue or plaster.

A facial aspect indicating an emotion; also, the means by which an artist communicates ideas and emotions.