Hans BELLMER | La demie poupée [The half doll]

Germany 1902 – France 1975

La demie poupée
[The half doll]
wood, paint and assemblage
90.0 (h) cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney Purchased 1996 89.1996
© Hans Bellmer. Licensed by VISCOPY, Australia.


Revolt against authority and the state in both personal and political life was a tenet of Surrealism: the more provocative the statement, the better. In The half doll 1971 mutilation is present in the doll’s reorganised torso, limbs and head, while fetishism is implied in her accoutrements of ribbon and shoes. Hans Bellmer worked on the doll theme in Germany from 1933 until the end of his life. Inspiration came from boyhood games with his little girlfriends in his father’s house and garden. Bellmer rejected his father’s authoritarian domination, and especially his membership of the Nazi party.

Bellmer's female figures are made of wood or plaster-of-Paris. They were assembled and re-assembled—and photographed—by the artist throughout his career in a series of transgressive images. Forbidden sexual desires seem to be rehearsed, bridging the gap between an artificial toy standing in for a real child. Surrealists prized the erotic connotations of a girl's body parts being manipulated by an adult male, the voyeur who is absent except for his gaze. The fantasy world of childhood toys collides with adult perceptions of sexuality. The artist is a magician, like Hoffmann's Dr Coppelius, who breathes life into a puppet, or a creator like Pygmalion, who defeats nature with his art.

The doll flows down the chair, soft in her lolling posture and rounded limbs. She is unable to act or move because of her position and mutilated body. The figure has no eyes, and only one breast, one arm and one leg; her genitals are transformed and displaced to the head, confusing gender markers. The personification of a child as asexual is questioned by such sexual emphasis, while a single leg displaces genitals, allowing no penetration. At the same time doll-ness is confirmed by a large hair bow and Mary Jane shoe, jointed limbs and size, the small figure seated on a school chair.

Christine Dixon
Senior Curator
International Painting and Sculpture
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra