In often violently erotic photographs and drawings, Hans Bellmer developed the Surrealist theme of mannequins and dolls as metaphors of sexuality with a singularly obsessive focus. He explored the usually pubescent female figure as fetish object. Bellmer's series Die Puppe (The Doll), debuted in the 1934 issue of the Surrealist publication Le Minotaure, and the photographs were described as "variations on the assemblage of an articulated minor." The doll consisted of a wood-and-metal skeleton covered with a realistic body of plaster and papier mâché; a system of ball-joints allowed it to be shaped into endless disturbing configurations, appearing dismembered and monstrous.
Born in Katowice, Silesia, Bellmer worked in coal mines before entering the Berlin Technische Hochschule to study engineering in 1923. While there, he also studied perspective with George Grosz and established contact with Dada artists. From 1924 to 1936 he worked variously as a typographer and draftsman. He first made contact with the Surrealists in 1924 on a trip to Paris. In 1932 he was inspired by the opera The Tales of Hoffmann, and the next year collaborated on a production of Hoffmann's The Sandman: both works feature female automatons. At around this time, in opposition to the rise of Nazism, he stopped all work that supported the state. Bellmer began constructing his first "artificial girl" in 1934, with his wife, Margarete. Photographs of the doll were hand-colored by Bellmer for the first edition of his book Die Puppe. The second series of dolls, even more disarticulated than the first, were created in 1936-1938. Bellmer left Berlin in 1938 and settled in Paris where he was part of Surrealist circles. With the outbreak of the war, he was interned as a German citizen in a prison camp from 1940-1941. Bellmer's work appeared in numerous exhibitions, including the 1947 International Surrealist Exposition in Paris.