This dark, unsettling painting is one of the key works of the Czech Surrealist movement.

It was painted by Marie Čermínová, the artist who adopted the un-gendered name Toyen in 1923 and who often referred to herself using masculine pronouns.

Toyen studied at the School of Applied Arts in Prague from 1919 to 1922 and afterwards joined the abstract-modernist group Devětsil. After several years living in Paris she returned to Prague, and from 1931 began to work in the Surrealist style. In 1934 she became one of the founding members of the Czech Surrealist group Skupina. Toyen was acquainted with Surrealism’s key protagonists, including Breton, Ernst, Dali, and Duchamp, and her work appeared in many international Surrealist exhibitions, most notably in London in 1936.

The Message of the Forest shows a nightmarish woodland scene in which a blue owl-like creature holds the severed head of a girl in a single claw. It is the fourth and largest work in Toyen’s series of paintings on a similar theme, one which embodies typical Surrealist concerns such as irrationality, the unconscious and the power of nature over the human world.

The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art owns a world-class collection of surrealist art, including works by Magritte, Miro and Dali. However, the gallery’s holdings by women surrealists are modest. The Message of the Forest is therefore a significant acquisition as both a major work by a female Surrealist and the first by a Czech Surrealist to enter the collection.

This work was acquired with assistance from the Wolfson Foundation.


The artist; sold Hans Neumann (1921-2001) a Czech collector, date unknown but after 1949; sold to Roy Cullen (1929-2014) and Mary Cullen 2001; sold via private sale through Christie's.

Exhibitions at Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

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