From 1919 to 1920, Toyen attended UMPRUM (Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design) in Prague. He worked closely with fellow Surrealist poet and artist Jindřich Štyrský until Štyrský's death. They joined the Devětsil group in 1923 and exhibited with the group. In the early 1920s Toyen travelled to Paris, and soon returned there with Štyrský. While living in Paris, the two founded an artistic alternative to Abstraction and Surrealism, which they dubbed Artificialism. They returned to Prague in 1928.
Although he was born female, Toyen referred to himself in the masculine case out of rejection for gender in true avant-garde fashion. He purposefully cast aside the confining trappings of femininity in order to access the almost exclusively male modernist art world. Toyen's sketches, book illustrations, and paintings were frequently erotic and he contributed erotic sketches for Štyrský's Eroticka Revue (1930–33). This journal was published on strict subscription terms based on a circulation of 150 copies. Štyrský also published books under the imprint Edice 69, some of which Toyen illustrated. For example, he illustrated the Marquis de Sade's Justine. Also of note, he contributed pieces in Die Frau als Künstlerin, Woman as an Artist, the prestigious 1928 survey of women artists in Western civilization.
Toyen and Štyrský gradually grew more interested in Surrealism. After their associates Vítězslav Nezval and Jindřich Honzl met André Breton in Paris, they founded the Czech Surrealist Group along with other artists, writers, and the composer Jaroslav Ježek.
Forced underground during the Nazi occupation and Second World War, he sheltered his second artistic partner, Jindřich Heisler, a poet of Jewish descent who had joined the Czech Surrealist Group in 1938. The two relocated to Paris in 1947, before the Communist takeover of Czechoslovakia in 1948. In Paris, they worked with André Breton, Benjamin Péret, and other surrealists. Toyen(her own name is Marie Čermínová), was a czech-french painter, one of representatives of Europe surrealism. She is very important person in Czech culture, even though she lived most of her life in Paris. She belongs to the most important and the freest creative people of artistic avant-garde in the beginning of 20. Century. Biography Childhood and adolescence
Marie Čermínová was born on 21th September 1902 in Smíchov (today Prague-Smíchov), to the family of post assistant Václav Čermín, he was born in 1870. Her mother Marie (born as Jedličková) was born in 1868. There are not many things known about her childhood. Other than the fact that she was just living with her older sister in Smíchov, she said that she does not and never had any family at all. When she was 16 years old she left home and she worked in Žižkov as workwoman for some soap factory. Since 1919 to 1922 she studied decorative painting in Applied Arts school. Toyen and Karel Teige Very important for her became her lifetime friendship with painter, writer and photographer Jindřich Štýrský (1899-1942). They met on the island Korčula in summer 1922 and they have cooperated as a art couple. Together they join the avant-garde association of young Czech generation, the artistic union Devětsil. In 1925 they went together to Paris and they created new art trend the following year called Artificialism. Artificialism represented original alternative for surrealism and abstraction. She was also a part of Association of Fine Artists Mánes and surrealist group based on André Breton and Paul Eluard, who Toyen and Štyrský met in Paris. After coming back from Paris in 1934 they became founding members of The Group of Surrealists of Czechoslovakia (as well as Bohuslav Brouk, Karel Teige, Vincent Makovský, Vítězslav Nezval, etc.). She was very close with Jaroslav Seifert, who wrote about her very admirably in his memory books. During occupation During the nazi occupation was surrealism considered perverse art, so all surrealist production was forbbiten. Jindřich Štýrský died during occupation (21.3.1942), Jaroslav Ježek emigrated, some members of the surrealist group stopped producing more surrealist work. Toyen withdrawed to seclusion. After the world war II. Toyen could publish her work after the war again and she had a couple exhibitions. In spring of 1947 she left Czechoslovakia with Jindřich Heisler, because she predicted upcoming komunism. She moved away all of her work and she left to Paris forever. Navázala na své předválečné kontakty- she knew the main representatives of surrealism such as André Breton and Benjamin Péret very well. And Ferdinand Peroutka helped her build new existencial for her. Toyen have never forget her birth land, as we can clearly see in the series of paintings called Pražská domovní znamení (Prague home signs). Her work kept its specific and original way, she continued being very searched illustrator and she had many colectiv exhibitions and her own as well. In the last 10 years of her life she started being more and more lonely. Very hard point in her life was a break up of French surrealist group in 1969- she missed regular meet ups in cafe. Her friends one by one passed away. She was in closer contact especially with poet Radovan Ivšić, who helped her with exhibitions in her latest years a lot and in 1973 he made an exhibition in Parisian gallery and bookshop Les Mains Libres dedicated to Toyens book work. Toyen died on 9th November 1980 in Paris. Until her very last days she tried to work, but she was getting weaker. Her funeral took place with her closest friends in Parisian graveyard des Batignolles, where her friends André Breton and Benjamin Péret lays as well. Czechoslovakia press passed over the death of this exceptional woman and artist with silence. Her art inheritance was sold out in three auctions. Pseudonym Toyen History of Czech avant-garde is mainly the field of competence of men. Decorative art was primarily represented by many woman artists, but the so-called high art including sculpture and painting were a speciality of men artists. Toyen was the only well-respected woman artist of pre war Czech avant-garde. Toyen was protesting against bourgeois conventions by inclination to anarchist movement, she protested against family, social and cultural authorities, she denied traditional “woman role”. Despite all conventions at that time she dressed unusually, as a man in suit with a bowtie and wore her hair short; talking about herself in the male genus (such as Marlene Dietrich). “ Just like her dislike for her surname, she didn’t like her woman gender either. She spoke in male gender only. At first it felt unusual and grotesque, but as time went by we got used to it.” –Jaroslav Seifert In 1922 she gave up her female name and since then nobody except a few of her closest friends, who called her with familiar “Manko”, called her other then Toyen. Pseudonym Toyen devised for her Jaroslav Seifert, at least that’s what he said. He would meet her on her way to the soap factory in Husova třída in Žižkov (today Husitská street), she was dressed in man workers pants, vest and a cap. Then he met her after a few years and thought up her pseudonym Toyen that he thoughtlessly wrote on piece of napkin in National cafe. “Marie Čermínová asked me and Nezval for a long time to make up some suitable pseudonym for her. We thought of dozen names, although she didn’t like any of them. Well, we didn’t like them much either. And then one day as I was sitting with Manka (Marie Čermínová) alone in National cafe and Manka was just about to have an exhibition. She refused to exhibit with her own name. When she left for a minute to get some magazine, I wrote TOYEN on a napkin in capital letters. When she came back and saw the name, she accepted it with no doubt or thinking and she use it till this very day; nobody ever calls her differently and her real name is probably only on her passport, that is not valid for some time now.”- Jaroslav Seifert “Goodbye. I am the sad artist. That’s how Toyen said goodbye to her friends in the middle on the night in pague street.”- Jaroslav Seifert We can also find other opinions in literature. Sometimes are people connecting pseudonym Toyen with french term citoyen(citizen). Bohuslav Brouk interpreted Toyen as an anagram of the words “to je on” (“this is him” in czech). In 1930 Adolf Hoffmeister drew a comic cartoon of Toyen called ‘Ten-Ta-To-yen’ (He-She-It) for Rozpravy Aventina. In the beginning of Toyens work was effected by puristly modified cubism, that she leaves later in her life to paint a series of naive poetic paintings inspired by Sunday-painters work and poetic atmosphere of Devětsil. In following years Toyens paintings changes after her move out to Paris influenced by artificialism to brittle, spider web like fragile and soft work made by hair string curvy strokes, dimmed illuminations and smoke shades, which were later replaced with raw, thick pastes, irregularly structured surfaces concretized only with a metaphorical titles of her paintings. Artificialism While living in Paris Toyen and Štyrský made up a new art trend called artificialism. In manifest of this trend, published in the Red magazine, they said that it’s based on theory of poetism, it is about identification of painter and poet and with that they denied cubism. They literally said: “Cubism twisted reality instead of getting the flow to imagination .(...) Artificialism comes with different perspective. Leaving reality on its own it turns up the imagination to maximum.” Artificial paintings of Toyen represents surfaces with linear elements and curves, dimmes illuminations and undefined textures. Vítězslav Nezval got inspired by the titles of Toyen and Štyrskýs paintings and dedicated them a couple of poems in his collection Hra v kostky. Surrealism in Toyens work Painting was for Toyen one of her natural inner needs away from any ambition. She did not put herself out there on her own, she never conform any requirements of galleys and art critics. She made her own independent exhibitions as manifests of her friendship with surrealist poets, who wrote verses and lyrics for her published in specially edited catalogs. Even though Toyens life and work contributed to the history of feminist art and art critic, she never openly spoke about her sympathy or support for feminism nor did she ever spoke about her sexual orientation. Anyway she is considered being a pathfinder of woman art as an artist, who represents and changes women's sexuality, desire and identity. Simultaneously have she introduced drastic new point of view on women percieving, thinking and knowing themselves in modern world. In 1934 a big shift in her work occurred, when Toyen signed a pronouncement about creating a Surrealist group in Czechoslovakia. Examples of Toyens work Artificialism • Fata morgana, 1926 Surrealism • Dvě lesbičky (Two lesbians), 1932 • Přízraky pouště (Ghosts of the dessert), 1937 • Ranní setkání (Morning meeting), 1937 • cyklus Schovej se, válko (series War, hide yourself), 1944
- Huebner, Karla Tonine. "Eroticism, Identity, and Cultural Context: Toyen and the Prague Avant-garde." Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh, 2008.