“BOTH NEAR TO THE GRASP AND UNREACHABLE”: SCARCE FIRST EDITION OF ROBBINS’ DUTCH DOLL DITTIES, 1904
ROBBINS, Louis. Dutch Doll Ditties. London: Longmans, Green, 1904. Large quarto, original half burgundy cloth, original tipped-in cover duotone (measures 3 by 4 inches). $1800.
First edition of this unsettling 1904 photobook by Louis Robbins, anticipating by several decades the Surrealist art of Hans Bellmer’s La Poupeé (1935) and the later doll-like figures of Cindy Sherman’s Sex Pictures (1992), this scarce work by the relatively unknown Robbins featuring tales such as “Troublesome Children,” with 37 duotones (including tipped-in cover plate).
This scarce first edition of Louis Robbins’ 1904 photobook Dutch Doll Ditties anticipates by over 30 years the work of Surrealists whose “fascination with the automaton or doll is a fascination with the unconscious as well as with the uncanny” (Lusty, Surrealism, 92). In particular Robbins’ often disturbing images of articulated dolls within the seeming frame of a children’s book—his bittersweet romances and unsettling comedic tales, his story of soldier dolls with amputated limbs, of children in unhappy doll families, and his challenge to racism in “Sambo”— eerily precede the Surrealist project of German artist Hans Bellmer in La Poupée (The Doll, 1935). Like Bellmer’s art, together with works by Miró, Man Ray, Duchamp and others, this unsettling photobook by the relatively unknown Robbins imagines the doll as “both near to the grasp and unreachable, what Bellmer has described as ‘an incitement to poetry” (Warren, Encyclopedia of 20th-Century Photography, 116). Photographer Cindy Sherman’s own scenes of doll-like body fragments in Sex Pictures (1992) similarly evoke both Bellmer’s and Robbins’ photo-works: where “the child’s plaything is indeed repossessed” (Conley, Automatic Woman, 84). With 37 duotones by Robbins, and nine tales including “A Sequel” to the children’s tale of Miss Muffit, “Troublesome Children” and “The Twins.” As issued without dust jacket.
Plates and text fresh, text block expertly repaired, light edge-wear, bit of rubbing to boards and cover plate. An extremely good copy of this unusual photobook.