Toyen (Marie Čermínová)

Bohemian (1902-1980)
Toyen (Marie Čermínová) The Message of the Forest (Poselstvi Lesa) 1936 © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2017


Born 1902
Died 1980
Nationality Bohemian

Toyen was a founder and the most celebrated member of Czech Surrealist Group.  Born Marie Čermínová in 1902, she declared in 1923 that henceforth, she would be known as ‘Toyen’. There was no explanation given for this new name, although it may be derived from the French word ‘Citoyen’ (citizen) which gave 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 the rest of Toyen's life, she referred to herself using the masculine form in her native Czech. Cutting her hair short, Toyen often wore coarse, working men's clothes. This androgynous and exploration of gender stereotypes have made Toyen a cult figure. After a period in Paris with her partner, the artist Jan Štyrský, they both returned to Prague in 1928 and helped establish the city as a significant centre for Surrealist activity. Toyen was supported in particular by André Breton, the leading figure in the Surrealist movement, and became friendly with many of the prominent figures in the French Surrealist group, including Max Ernst, Yves Tanguy and Salvador Dalí.

Glossary terms

  • A literary and artistic movement founded by the poet André Breton in 1924. Many of the associated artists, such as Max Ernst and Jean Arp, had previously been involved with Dadaism. The movement sought to challenge conventions through the exploration of the subconscious mind, invoking the power of dreams and elements of chance. Cultural hierarchies were challenged by the combination of diverse elements in collages and sculptural assemblages. The movement is also notable for the collaborations between artists and writers evident in the Surrealists' many publications.