Saturday, August 7, 2010


Toyen suggère que, sur un plan où le monde extérieur n'est qu'un élément nécessaire à la composition d'un monde complet, il dépend de nous de les connaître au jour le jour, puisque la perception d'un chant d'oiseau peut provoquer la résurrection de villes englouties où un voisin de palier se promène à bicyclette à la tête d'un cortège de girafes psalmodiant des hymnes au soleil. (Benjamin Péret)

 Toyen, Jindrich Heisler and Karel Teige, Prague 1940

Toyen (1902-1980) was born in Prague, where she attended UMPRUM (School of Decorative Arts) from 1919 to 1920. From an artistic, political and personal point of view, Toyen was an extremely independent person. She rejected her real name (Marie Cerminova) and chose to pursue her career under an assumed name - a mysterious one without a gender (derived from citoyen). She broke all links to her family in favour of several friends who were "bound by choice". Toyen protested against a bourgeois life and endorsed the anarchist movement. 

Toyen, Three Kings, 1925

Although Toyen's life was full of personal turbulences and misfortunes, her work retained authenticity and inner consistency. In the early 1920s, she began her lifelong friendship with the Czech painter, photographer and poet, Jindrich Styrsky (1899-1942). This was a remarkable union of two individuals who inspired, influenced and complemented each other. 

 Toyen, Objekt-fantom, 1937

In 1923, Toyen and Styrski joined the Czech avandgarde association Devetsil. In her early works, Toyen played with cubistic elements. In the mid-1920s, however, she created a series of naive paintings with hedonistic motifs. At the end of 1926, Toyen and Styrsky left Prague and moved to Paris. In the following year, they announced their own alternative to both of the leading avantgarde trends in Paris, Abstraction and Surrealism - Artificialism.

Toyen, Horror, 1937

Toyen and Styrsky returned to Prague in 1929. Styrski began publishing a magazin, the Revue érotique,  with drawings by Toyen. At that time, she also illustrated Justine by de Sade. By the end of the 1920s, Toyen's work became increasingly surrealistic. In 1934, she was one of the founding membes of the Czech Surrealist Group in Prague, which cooperated closely with André Breton's group. One year later, Breton and the poet Paul Eluard visited Prague and began a liflong friendship with Toyen, interrupted only by the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia. 

 Toyen, Zdenka Marčanová, Náš svět, 1934

During the years of occupation, Toyen's art went underground as Surrealism was another of the "Degenerate" art movements banned by the Nazis. Toyen, though she worked throughout the war years could not exhibit. After the war, she showed her work briefly in Prague before fleeing to Paris in 1947 (together with Jindrich Heisler) to escape the Stalinist takeover. Back in Paris, she worked until her death with André Breton, the French poet and anarchist  Benjamin Péret, as well as with Czech painter and poet Jindrich Heisler.

 Toyen, Relache, 1943

Toyen regarded painting as a natural need free of any ambition. She never conformed to the demands and claims of gallerists and art critics. Exhibiting her paintings was an opportunity to express her friendship with Surrealist writers, who wrote poems for her and texts for her catalogues. After her death in 1980, an exhibition of her work and of the collaboration with her Czech colleagues was shown at the Centre Pompidou, and in the following years, a number of important retrospectives were held. 

 Toyen, Paravent, 1966
Calypsospots curates a magnificent collection of Czech avantgarde art on Flickr. You can see many more of Toyens works there.


  1. Hi, I'm working in a project on Toyen. Could you suggest me someone who knows her (or about her)?
    Thank you,

    1. Hello, I wonder if through your studies you know the background story to the painting Relache?

      I find it fascinating and I cannot find anything about that painting specifically