There are only a few artists from the circle of Parisian surrealism whose lives and works reflect the new possibilities for women who do not want to bow to the prevailing role expectations. Toyen is definitely one of the first things. Her androgynous appearance was known from male-dominated group photos, but so far had little idea of ​​the development she has taken over six decades of creative work. In 2000, a first monographic exhibition was dedicated to her in Prague. The first retrospective “TOYEN” followed in 2021 in the Nationalgalerie, which now, before Paris in the Musée d'Art Moderne, is making a stop at the Hamburger Kunsthalle with around three hundred exhibits.

This is a stroke of luck, because Toyen never visited Germany, but was already perceived in 1924 by the Dadaist and filmmaker Hans Richter as one of the figureheads of the Czech avant-garde. In the magazine G: Material he reported on his trip to Prague and the "absolutist rule of the beautiful Toyen". “We preferred this personal work to all of her pictures,” he enthused, “which do not lag behind those of their male colleagues in strength or delicacy.” The reproduction intended for the magazine with the title “Un baiser par TSF” (A kiss via wireless telegraphy) shows lip prints signed by Toyen.Man Ray's famous painting "À l'heure de l'Observatoire - Les Amoureux" (In the Hour of the Observatory - The Lovers) of Lee Miller's Lips floating in the sky was not painted until 1932.

But who is behind the pseudonym? The search for clues leads to the present. Since 1945, Czech women have been legally obliged to add the feminine ending -ova to their surnames. It signals ownership, you are either the daughter or the wife of a man. In June 2021, the House of Representatives in Prague approved an amendment to the law that allows women to choose whether they want to submit to the fate of an appendage.

For Marie Čermínová, born in 1902, this option was out of the question even as a teenager. At the age of seventeen she moved out of home and gave herself the stage name Toyen - based on the masculine form of the politically charged battle term “citoyen” in the French Revolution. She studied at the arts and crafts school and joined the artists' association Devětsil, which had just made contact with the Parisian surrealists. On a Croatian island she met the painter Jindřich Štyrský. They moved in together, made long trips through Europe, worked symbiotically on projects - without ever becoming lovers. The fact that one of her first paintings, “Polštář” (Pillow) from 1922, showed group sex, testifies to the striving for freedom of a nonconformist who knew early on that she was neither a muse nor an assistant.The colleagues nevertheless took a liking to the enfant terrible. The poet František Halas even wrote her the dedication: “To Toyen, who was shot from a magical god's pistol to become queen of the fire eater on a dream coast.” Delicate motifs with clowns and acrobats, in the naive style of Henri Rousseau, alternated on Start with cubist-inspired paintings.