In 1919 she had already frequented the Prague avant-garde circle that included Franz Kafka and Jaroslev Hasek, author of the Brave Soldier Chveik. In 1921 she began making paintings that expressed through abstraction an atmosphere of subtle anguish. After becoming close to the artist Jindrich Styrsky in 1922- so close that some believed she was his companion- she joined the Devetsil group, whose mission was to achieve a synthesis between the new schools of this period, thereby accomplishing the most advanced artistic action in Czechoslovakia. Toyen showed her first work at an event organized by Devetsil in 1923. She experimented in an ultramodern spirit, either rivaling popular imagery or evoking with her coulures (drip) technique, a cracked, entirely fissured world. In 1933 she was a cofounder of Czech surrealism, and from then on created uncommon and spellbinding images, such as Horizon (1937, Museo de Arte Moderno, Rio de Janeiro), where four female heads emerging from the ground gaze into the distance. She had her most important exhibition in Prague in 1938; that same year, a monograph appeared on the work of both Toyen and Styrsky, with essays by Karel Teige and Vietzslev Nezval. Under the German Occupation, her name was on the list of intellectuals for whom all public life was prohibited. She clandestinely painted the works she showed in Prague and in Paris at Galerie Denise René, in 1947, confirming in both exhibitions that her style had reached the characteristic degree of originality that it always retained. The silhouette of a wolf drawn on a walls comes to life (Château La Coste, 1946), a headless woman, or a woman whose partly open dress reveals her bodiless form, ghost-like silhouettes, furtive animals- all of these themes were used to distill fear as in tales of horror. In 1948 Toyen settled permanently in Paris, where she lived in the shadow of André Breton, who had the utmost admiration for her. She composed admirable albums of drawings, Les Spectres du désert (1939), Le Tir (1939-40), Cache-toi, guerre (1944) and a book of etchings, Ni ailes ni pierres: ailes et pierres (1954). Because of Toyen’s reserve she only rarely showed her paintings in surrealist exhibitions or at the Salon de Mai, and her oeuvre has not yet received the recognition it deserves. We will discover one day that she was an artist of the highest importance whom all authentic avant-garde connoisseurs should treasure. Toyen’s retrospective at the Centre Georges-Pompidou in 1982 was combined with a Jindrich Styrsky retrospective (as in past exhibits in Prague and Paris, where they were always shown together). Her first exhibition in Prague since her exile was held in 2000 at the Prague City gallery, accompanied by a 400-page catalog with 350 color reproductions.
Born 1902 in Prague; died 1980 in Paris.