Jaroslav Siefert, Volné Směry, 1933-34
Painted in 1951, Au soleil noir is an exquisite work from Toyen’s mature period. Showcasing the artist’s personal approach to some of the key surrealist notions of the avant-garde movement, the present work combines symbols which both expand beyond the realms of imagination and are at the same time deeply rooted in the artist's personal history.
Set on a dark background, elements which appear to have been randomly selected thus acquire a more profound meaning. The black sun, an allusion to the suggestive astronomical event of the eclipse, is in fact a decoration taken from a traditional house in the city of Prague, known as The House of The Shining Sun (fig. 1). First appearing in Prague in the fifteenth century, signs like this one were used to distinguish buildings and for easy orientation. Toyen was inspired by these quirky and suggestive signs and often incorporated them in her works between 1930-1940. On the other hand, the cocoon-shaped whirl of colourful threads is both evocative of the four elements of nature (fire, earth, water and air) and of another motif frequently used by the artist, that of the joining hands. Emphasising the concept of personal recollection, Au soleil noir could therefore be interpreted as an intimate expression of Toyen's own memory of the city of Prague.
Born in Prague in 1902 as Marie Cermínová, Toyen was a key member of the Surrealist group and an integral figure within the Czech avant-garde. In 1920 she was the co-founder of the Devětsil group, which aimed to both offer a platform for a new generation of Czech artists and provide an insight into avant-garde developments across Europe. Adopting the pseudonym ‘Toyen’, she spent part of the 1920s in Paris with her friend and colleague Jindřich Štyrský, with whom she founded Artificialism, a style of painting concerned with the poetic perception of recollection. She became a leading member of Surrealism both in Paris and in Prague, participating in all its international exhibitions.
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