See a lost canvas by mysterious Czech painter Toyen before it goes to auction

A new work by the fabled surrealist, recently discovered in Lebanon, is on display for a limited time ahead of an auction later this month.

 William Nattrass

Written by William Nattrass Published on 11.11.2021 12:51 (updated on 11.11.2021) Reading time: 2 minutes

Czech artist Toyen is one of the most intriguing figures in the nation’s cultural history. A pioneer of the country’s avant-garde art movement, she also broke down barriers in societal norms, famously asking acquaintances to give her a gender-neutral pseudonym as she no longer wanted to exhibit her artworks as a woman.

Now Toyen’s story has taken on another dimension of mystery, as a previously lost canvas by her has resurfaced in Lebanon almost 100 years after being displayed at a Paris art exhibition in 1926.

It is thought the canvas, named Serenade, is one of dozens by Toyen potentially lost over the centuries. Art historians believe around 35 paintings by the Prague native are still unaccounted for, although some of these may not have been preserved. The journeys of paintings can be winding and apparently directed by the hand of fate; the latest Toyen discovery in Lebanon came about due to coincidence, according to Czech gallerist Vladimír Lekeš.

“Last autumn, another Toyen oil painting, named The Queen of Spades sold at our Adolf Loos Apartment and Gallery. The National Museum of Qatar bought it for a record CZK 79 million. Shortly afterwards, as I was waiting for a flight at Marseille Airport, I was called by a French radio station to discuss the sale. Coincidentally, the owner of the hitherto unknown Toyen from Beirut, Lebanon, overheard the conversation. She found out my contact, called, and after short negotiations offered the work for our autumn auction,” Lekeš told Seznam Zprávy.

Toyen, real name Marie Čermínová, was a world-famous Czech painter and one of the most influential figures in the avant-garde art scene at the beginning of the 20th century. She was among the founders of surrealism in Czechoslovak art. Legend has it that her famous pseudonym was invented by her poet friend Jaroslav Seifert, who claimed to have scribbled the name on a napkin at Prague’s National Café when the painter left to pick up a newspaper. From then on, Čermínová declared she would only be known as Toyen.

Although born in Prague, Toyen spent much of her adult life in Paris, which was then considered the artistic capital of the world. Some of her paintings reflect the hedonistic atmosphere of artistic circles in the French capital between the world wars. The newly discovered work Serenade depicts a scantily-clad oriental dancer alongside a musician; a similar scene is also shown in the Three Dancers painting located in Prague’s National Gallery.

The canvas measures 55 x 65 cm, and can be viewed in the newly opened exhibition hall at the Expo 58 building in Prague’s Letenské sady. Admission is free every day from 10:00 until 18:00. People keen to see the painting shouldn’t wait too long, though: the painting will be auctioned on November 27, with a starting price set at €400,000, or CZK 10 million.

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