Toyen

The Message of the Forest (Poselstvi Lesa) (1936)

About this artwork

The power of nature over the human world is a recurring theme in Toyen’s work which repeatedly centres on barren, dream-like landscapes, featuring lone girls, fragmentary female figures and birds. Her interest in these themes originates in illustrations she made for children’s books, but her work soon took on a more bizarre and sinister appearance. Toyen was careful not to ‘explain’ her work, but instead left the viewer to explore the symbolic meaning. In common with many Surrealists she had a keen in interest in the writings of Sigmund Freud. Her works seem to respond to dreams and nightmares, suggesting a world of intense anxiety.

see media
  • title: The Message of the Forest (Poselstvi Lesa)
  • accession number: GMA 5551
  • artist: ToyenBohemian (1902-1980)
  • gallery: Scottish National Gallery Of Modern Art (Modern Two)(On Display)
  • object type: Painting
  • subject: Surrealism
  • materials: Oil on canvas
  • date created: 1936
  • measurements: 160.00 x 129.00 cm
  • credit line: Purchased with help from the Henry and Sula Walton Fund and Art Fund (with a contribution from The Wolfson Foundation), 2016
  • copyright: © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2017

Toyen

Toyen

Born Marie Čermínová in 1902, Toyen was the most celebrated member of the Czech Surrealist Group, of which she was a founding member. In 1923 she declared that henceforth she would be known simply as ‘Toyen’. She didn’t explain her reasons although the name may be derived from the French word ‘Citoyen’ (citizen) which gave her a non-gendered identity. Another suggestion is that it is a play on the Czech words ‘To je on’, which means ‘It is he’. Throughout her life she referred to herself using the masculine form in her native Czech. She cut her hair short and cross-dressed, often wearing coarse working men’s clothes. Her androgyny and exploration of gender stereotypes have made her a cult figure. After a period living in Paris with her partner, the artist Jan Štyrský, they both returned to Prague in 1928 and helped establish the city as a major centre for Surrealist activity. She was supported in particular by André Breton, the leading figure in the Surrealist movement, and became friendly with many of the leading figures in the French Surrealist group, including Max Ernst, Yves Tanguy and Salvador Dalí.