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Lot #162 

Toyen (1902–1980)

Il s‘anime

oil on canvas
signed lower right
46 × 38 cm
Estimate: 9,000,000 CZK - 13,000,000 CZK
Starting price: 7,000,000 CZK
Hammer price:
11,200,000 CZK

This unusual and enchantingly mysterious painting represents Toyen’s peak post-war Parisian period and her connection to the highest level of European surrealism. In an attempt to escape the impending communist coup in Czechoslovakia, Toyen was the only artist among the pre-war Czech Parisians who permanently returned to this metropolis. Although she lived a modest life in Paris, which was not easy for her, she had a supportive environment there. She also became involved again in the activities of the surrealist group alongside André Breton and Benjamin Péret. Because she only painted a few paintings a year, her artistic approach matured over time and became unexpectedly elaborate, full of overt and hidden allusions, but in a different way of representation than in her previous phase of intuitive surrealism. She focused primarily on works with multiple layers of meaning; connected with her psyche, she created based on subconscious processes and principles until she reached a boundary between abstract and realistic expression.

In this enigmatic painting, Toyen captured a green figure surrounded by a black aura, emerging from an indeterminate dream space, suggestively enhanced by her favourite emerald colour, which is deliberately disturbed by dark red spots. The lower part of the strange creature is free of weight and gradually takes on completely concrete forms, whilst its yellow end/head, which emerges from the dark canvas, contrasts with the dark green background and fills the whole scene with restlessness and dynamism. Although the presented painting poses questions to which there may not be a satisfactory answer, the translation of the French title Il's anime, which in a figurative sense could refer to the motif of revival, gives a lot of clues. However, the main message remains the artist’s statement and deep emotions through which this work, imbued with a hidden erotic atmosphere, speaks to its beholders.

In 1958, Galerie Furstenberg purchased the work from Toyen. Subsequently, it was acquired by the art historian, specialist in surrealism and Dadaism, and the author of Marcel Duchamp’s catalogue raisonné, Arturo Schwarz, who exhibited Toyen’s works in 1961 in his Milan gallery at the International Surrealist Exhibition. Assessed during consultations by prof. J. Zemina and PhDr. R. Michalová, Ph.D. The expertise of PhDr. K. Srp is attached.