Culture & Society Czech Republic News

Long-lost Toyen painting sold for €2 million in Prague

Prague, Czech Republic – Serenade, a long-lost painting by Czech surrealist master Toyen, was sold for 49 million Kc (nearly €2 million) at an auction organized by the Adolf Loos Apartment and Gallery in Prague.

The starting price for the painting was set at 10 million Kc (€400,000).

Serenade, which dates from 1924 and was painted during the artist’s so-called “naïve” or “primitive” period and last exhibited at the 1926 exhibition in Paris, remained lost and unknown to the public for close to a hundred years.

It was only recently rediscovered, by chance, in Lebanon and briefly exhibited in Prague last month.

“Last autumn, another Toyen oil painting, named the Queen of Spades, sold at our Adolf Loos Apartment and Gallery,” Czech gallerist Vladimir Lekes explained. “The National Museum of Qatar bought it for a record 79 million Kc.”

“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 [Serenade] Toyen from Beirut, Lebanon, overheard the conversation. She found out my contact, called, and after short negotiations offered the work for our autumn auction.”

Art historians believe dozens of other paintings by the Smichov-born painter could still be lost in the wild.

Toyen’s 1958 Breathing Sleep, and an erotic drawing dating from 1932 were also sold during that same auction, held in the historic Expo building in Letna park, itself a souvenir from Czechoslovakia’s success at the 1958 Worl Fair in Brussels.

Works from other notable 19th and 20th century artists were also on the catalogue, with Frantisek Kupka’s 1895 oil painting On the Bank of the Marne River listed for almost 4 million Kc, along with works by Jiri Kolar, Bela Kolarova, Josef Sima, Antonin Chittussi, Josef Matej Navratil and Bedrich Havranek, among others.

A major figure in the Czech avant-garde movement, one of the founders of the Czechoslovak surrealism movement at the start of the 20th century, and an outspoken women’s rights and gender equality pioneer, Toyen was born Marie Cerminova in Prague in 1902, studying decorative arts at UMPRUM. She later found inspiration in the free-spirited and bohemian atmosphere of interwar Paris, where she spent most of her adult life.

She died on November 9, 1980, in the French capital.

She adopted her famous pseudonym in the early 1920s. According to the legend, it was created by Jaroslav Seifert, a poet friend and future laureate of the Nobel Prize in Literature, who scribbled it on a napkin at Prague’s National Café.

It’s believed to be a reference to the French word for “citizen” (“citoyen”), or a play on the Czech “to je on” (meaning “it is he”), with the artist famously preferring gender-neutral names and expressions to refer to herself.

Headed by Kafkadesk's chief-editor Jules Eisenchteter, our Prague office gathers over half a dozen reporters, editors and contributors, as well as our social media team. It covers everything Czech and Slovak-related, and oversees operations from our other Central European desks in Krakow and Budapest.