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Toyen in 1930
Toyen with Karel Teige in 1925

Toyen, born Marie Čermínová (21 September 1902, Prague – 9 November 1980, Paris), was a Czech painter, drafter and illustrator and a member of the surrealist movement. Toyen left their family at sixteen and it has been speculated it was due to sympathy towards anarchism.[1]

In 1923, they changed her name to Toyen. The name Toyen was derived from the French word 'citoyen,' meaning citizen.[2] Toyen favored the gender-neutral name and would speak czech in the masculine singular form.[3] Vítězslav Nezval wrote that Toyen "refused... to use the feminine endings" when referring to themself. [4]


"Farewell I am a sad [male] painter" (1923). [4]

“You’ll have me and you won’t have me, keeping vigil, a nightlight looming up from the very depths of the chapels of Eros scouring the country, displaying as far as the eye can see for you alone the undersurfaces of owlet-moths. And towards you, from their beds livid swamp, your sweethearts, their blood has only circulated once, will describe in vain a thousand convulsive graphs, as for me I shall only need to slip in order to make the fuchsia seeds and Fuseli’s bubbles sprout in your heart. It is for you that my head turns upside down beneath the comb’s high radar. I advance between light and darkness to meet you: do with me whatever you do not want. If the lower edge of my veil becomes covered with hoar-frost at the crossroads, on no account raise it, it would cost you the shadows of memory, but kiss my cherry-red slipper" (1958). [5]


From 1919 to 1920, Toyen attended UMPRUM (Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design) in Prague to study the decorative arts.[4] They worked closely with fellow Surrealist poet and artist Jindřich Štyrský until Štyrský's death.

Toyen joined the Devětsil group in 1923 and exhibited with them. The group was inspired by the poetry of Paris and would lead Toyen toward Artificialism. Other members of the group included: artists and writer Jindřich Štyrský, future Nobel prizewinner Jaroslav Seifert, the constructivist architectural theorist Karel Teige, and the poet František Halas. In the early 1920s Toyen traveled to Paris, and soon returned there with Štyrský to live in exile. While living in Paris, the two founded an artistic alternative to Abstraction and Surrealism, which they dubbed Artificialism. Artificialism was defined by Toyen and Štyrský in a leaflet for an exhibition as "The identification of the painter with the poet," where the artist creates poetry without using language.[4] The two would return to Prague in 1928.

Toyen's sketches, book illustrations, and paintings were frequently erotic. She had an interest in erotic humor, combining themes of both pleasure and pain. Her imagery often featured disembodied female figures as well as parts of male bodies like genitalia. [2] Her work featured female faces since they focused on the experiences of women.[4]

Toyen 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, they illustrated the Marquis de Sade's Justine. Also of note, they contributed pieces in Die Frau als Künstlerin, Woman as an Artist, the prestigious 1928 survey of women artists in Western civilization.

In 1930, Toyen would illustrate The Purple Land by W. H. Hudson and that same year design for Charles Vildrac's L'lle rose.[3]

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. They co founded the Surrealist group in Prague in 1934.

Forced underground during the Nazi occupation and Second World War, she sheltered her second artistic partner, Jindřich Heisler, a poet of Jewish descent who had joined the Czech Surrealist Group in 1938. The two permanently relocated to Paris in 1947, before the Communist takeover of Czechoslovakia in 1948. In Paris, she worked with André Breton, Benjamin Péret, once they joined the Parisian Surrealists. Toyen would continue to work in the publishing world, getting commissioned by poets and other writers to illustrate their works.

Exploring Sexuality and Gender in Surrealism[edit]

Toyen with Jindřich Heisler and Karel Teige in 1940

Toyen's artistic identity centered around gender issues and sexual politics. This would have been considerably difficult considering the surrealist movement was male-dominated and was known to be sexist.[6]

Toyen was labelled as a woman at birth, but didn't identify as so. Some people compare her with "other Surrealist women" (Claude Cahun, Leonora Carrington and a handful of others.[7] ). While Cahun examined the fluidity of gender roles, Toyen often dressed in men's clothing and preferred masculine signifiers,[8] choosing a non-conformist position when it came to gender and sexuality, themes heavily mined in Surrealist art.[9] She was considered a New Woman because she worked, wore pants, and smoked[9]. She addressed gender and sexuality in humor and fantasy-erotic illustrations. Concurrently, Toyen allowed herself to be hypersexualized by her peers.[6]

Surrealists believed that humans are sexual beings and linked sexuality to artistic creativity. They deemed sexuality as the center of citizenship, where genitalia is seen as the center of vitality.[10]

Scholarship claims that Toyen was labelled a lesbian, but entered partnerships with men in her lifetime. According to Huebner, it is best to see her as queer and not attempt to categorize her sexuality or gender.[4]

Toyen was described as "ambiguously gendered self-presentation," by dressing androgynous or as a cross-dresser. Additionally, she was reported as walking in an unfeminine way and was known to be attracted to women as well as men.[3]


  1. ^ A Biographical Dictionary of Women's Movements and Feminisms: Central, Eastern, and South Eastern Europe. 19th and 20th Centuries. Central European University Press. 2006. pp. 580, 581.
  2. ^ a b Srp, Karel (2011). New Formations: Czech Avant-Garde and Modern Glass from the Roy and Mary Cullen Collection. Museum Fine Arts Houston.
  3. ^ a b c Huebner, Karla (2008). Eroticism, Identity, and Cultural Context: Toyen and the Prague Avant-Garde. University of Pittsburg.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Huebner, Karla (2016). Czech Feminisms: Perspectives on Gender in East Central Europe. Indiana University Press.
  5. ^ Breton, Andre (1965). Surrealism and Painting. Editions Gallimard. p. 215.
  6. ^ a b Sternstein, Malynne (2015). The Popular Avant-Garde. Brill.
  7. ^ Surrealism, two private eyes : the Nesuhi Ertegun and Daniel Filipacchi Collections. Weisberger, Edward., Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. New York, N.Y.: Guggenheim Museum. 1999. ISBN 9780810969216. OCLC 42047840.CS1 maint: others (link)
  8. ^ "Toyen (Marie Čermínová)". National Galleries Scotland. Retrieved 5 November 2018.
  9. ^ a b Huebner, Karla (Spring 2013). "In Pursuit of Toyen: Feminist Biography in an Art-Historical Context". Journal of Women's History. Volume 25, No. 1: 14–36 – via Project MUSE.
  10. ^ Sternstein, Malynne (2016). The Invention of Politics in the European Avant-Garde. Brills.


  • Sternstein, Malynne. "This Impossible Toyen." [1] Book chapter, The Invention of Politics in the European Avant-Garde (1906-1940), eds., Saschu Bru and Gunter Martens, Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi, 2006.
  • Bydžovská, Lenka and Srp, Karel. Toyen (English version). Prague: Argo - Prague City Gallery, 2000.
  • Huebner, Karla. “THE CZECH 1930s THROUGH TOYEN.” Czech Feminisms: Perspectives on Gender in East Central Europe, edited by Iveta Jusová and Jiřina Šiklová, Indian University Press, Bloomington; Indianapolis, 2016, pp. 60–76. JSTOR,
  • Taylor, John. “Poetry Today: Prague as a Poem: Vitězslav Nezval and Emil Hakl.” The Antioch Review, vol. 68, no. 2, 2010, pp. 374–381. JSTOR,
  • Rosemont, Penelope. Surrealist Women: An International Anthology (Surrealist Revolution Series). Athlone Press, 1998.

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