Hans Bellmer (1902 Katowice, Germany – 23 February 1975 Paris, France) was an artist, best known for the life-sized pubescent female dolls he produced in the mid-1930s after the rise to power of the Nazi Party in 1933. He is also commonly thought of, in the art world, as a Surrealist photographer.
Since 1926 he had been working as a draftsman for his own advertising company. He initiated his doll project to oppose the fascism of the Nazi Party by declaring that he would make no work that would support the German state. Represented by mutated forms and unconventional poses, his dolls were directed specifically at the cult of the perfect body then prominent in Germany. Belmer was influenced in his choice of art form by reading the published letters of Oskar Kokoschka (Der Fetisch, 1925).
He visited Paris in 1935 and made contacts there such as Paul Éluard, but returned to Berlin because his wife Margarete was dying of tuberculosis.
Bellmer's 1934 anonymous book The Doll (Die Puppe), produced and published privately in Germany, contains 10 black-and-white photographs of Bellmer's first doll arranged in a series of "tableaux vivants" (living pictures). The book was not credited to him, he worked in isolation, and his photographs remained almost unknown in Germany. Yet Bellmer's work was eventually declared "degenerate" by the Nazi Party, and he was forced to flee Germany to France in 1938.
His work was welcomed in the Parisian art culture of the time, especially the Surrealists under André Breton, because of the references to female beauty and the sexualization of the youthful form. His photographs were published in the Surrealist journal Minotaure. Being known among the avante-garde did not, however, prevent him from being imprisoned in the Camp des Milles prison at Aix-en-Provence for most of World War II.
After the war, Bellmer lived the rest of his life in Paris. Bellmer gave up doll making, and spent the following decades creating erotic drawings, etchings, sexually explicit photographs, paintings and prints of pubescent girls. In 1954 he met Unica Zürn, who became his long-time model. He continued making work into the 1960s.