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Lot #132 

Toyen (1902–1980)

Monte Carlo

oil on canvas
signed lower right
90 × 60 cm
Estimate: 25,000,000 CZK - 45,000,000 CZK
Starting price: 18,000,000 CZK
Hammer price:
54,000,000 CZK

This extraordinary painting, Monte Carlo, has been kept in the collection of a prominent Czechoslovak architect and, until recently, it was known only from minor references in the literature and exhibited just once, immediately after its completion. It can be considered a major discovery in Toyen’s early artificialist work. Toyen executed it shortly after she arrived in Paris, where she and Jindřich Štyrský decided to move in the fall of 1925. At that time, avant-garde artists were enchanted by the geometric visual language drawn from the tradition of synthetic cubism. Toyen preferred to devote herself to naïve figurative artworks, though, influenced by the still lasting inspiration from the art of Henri Rousseau. 

Together with Štyrský, however, she perceived the development of Parisian modern painting, which was impressed by surrealism and abstraction. They responded to it with an intimate exhibition, held between 5 and 20 October 1926 in their studio at 51 Rue Barbes in the Montrouge district, at which they jointly presented several of their paintings. This event is sometimes associated with the inception of Artificialism, a new painting movement, because they allegedly introduced the exhibition with a single sentence: “Artificialism is the identification of the painter with the poet.” They followed up this initiatory event shortly afterwards with their first official, public exhibition of Artificialism in the Galerie d'Art Contemporain (27 November – 10 December 1926), at which Toyen presented thirty-one works from 1925 and 1926 in addition to Štyrský’s artworks. Among them, visitors could also see Monte Carlo and a few other unique canvases in which the artist left figuration for a while, adopted reduced geometric forms and adapted them using her very personal experience with Czechoslovak poetism.

She did so for the first time in the playful, purely abstract oil painting The Fair from 1925, but soon after, figurative elements began to appear in her works again. This is apparent in famous paintings depicting various types of entertainment, for example, Divers or Queen of Spades (both from 1926), and it is no different in the presented Monte Carlo. In its centre is a fragment of a roulette wheel, on the sides of which three rows of carefully rendered balustrades can be identified, which seem to refer to a specific casino that Toyen and Štyrský may have visited during their trip to Monte Carlo in January 1925. The painting is also characterised by typical undertones and brilliantly executed subtle structures, unmistakable in Toyen’s artistic expression. This abstract or semi-abstract period was very short in her work, and she left it to fully develop her pure artificialist period, full of imaginative landscapes. The paintings from this stage can be thus considered a direct insight into her artistic development and present a rare opportunity for collectors.

The painting was exhibited shortly after its creation in 1926 at the joint exhibition of Toyen and Jindřich Štyrský at the Galerie d'Art Contemporain (Paris, 27 November – 10 December 1926, No. 21). The first owner was prominent Czechoslovak architect Jan Zázvorka Sr., who acquired it directly from Toyen. Since then, it has been kept in his collection. The high value of this work enhances its rare original artist’s frame. Assessed during consultations by prof. J. Zemina and PhDr. J. Machalický. The expertise of PhDr. K. Srp is attached.