The Message Of The Forest

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The Message of the Forest-Toyen 1936

In 1936 Toyen returned to painting after a period concentrating on collages and erotic book illustration, and produced what is arguably her masterpiece The Message Of The Forest, a painting that seems to be an pictorial representation of a particularly sinister Central European fairy-tale.

A massive owl-like creature, painted in a startling shade of electric blue  bears in its one remaining claw the severed head of a young girl. As is frequent in Toyen she plays with scale to induce a sense of disorientation in the viewer. The vivid green of the tree bark and the absolute inky blackness of the night contrast with the pallid mask-like face of the girl, suggesting that the forest, and by extension nature, is essentially inimical  to humanity.

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38 thoughts on “The Message Of The Forest

  1. Ah the severed head… I’d like to hear the sinister fairy tale. Central and Eastern Europe have some particularly gruesome stories. And actually a lot of fairy tales were terrifying meant to scare children into obedience. A fantastic painting. An excellent post!

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    1. I don’t think there is such a fairytale it just seems to have a particular quality, dreamy and nightmarish. It sold recently for a record amount for a Czech artist. It is a fantastic painting. She deserves to be in the top rank of inter war avant garde artists.

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      1. I see. Just reminiscent of a fairy tale.. I certainly agree with that assessment! I am so glad the painting has been highly esteemed. It really does deserve it. Toyen may be my favorite of the artists you’ve featured. Is it a week of Toyen this week?

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  2. It’s very off-balance and disorientating. Although stationary and two-dimensional, it seems to move and the girl’s head and the bird’s claw seem to enter a third dimension. Very disorientating. I kept searching for an entry point, but only found a concentration / focus point: the severed head.

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    1. Yes, it is a disturbing work all right. The head is the focus. A most horrific chance encounter. The scale of the owl is indeed massive as the claw is almost the size of the head. The expressionist technique of the tree and the night and the creature forms a brilliant contrast to the head. As you can guess by the number of posts I am very taken with Toyen, I believe her stock is rising at last.

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  3. Mr. Cake, this is a haunting piece by Toyen. Seemingly a poignant message. Looking at the painting I can’t help but think of, “an eye for an eye”, especially seeing as the owl is missing one of its extremities. You know, one head, for one claw! Lovely post. ~ Miss Cranes

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      1. It is indeed a masterpiece. I think another interesting thing that Toyen did was to create a realistic shadow of the owl. Which for me creates a greater sense of the surreal. Along with some other details, which makes this a brilliant work of art.

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      2. Yes and isn’t the electric blue of the owl absolutely terrifying. Plus that broken claw. And the scale of the owl. I have thought long and hard about this painting which is haunting. I do think it has a sinister fairy tale quality to it.

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      3. I agree with everything you mentioned. Completely sinister! Is the electric blue owl floating, no wings! It can’t be perched, no foot/claw! Oddly the missing claw looks hollow as well. All of this does not negate the fact that the painting is fantastic, the creep factor is riveting.

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  4. What is the message of the forest Cake? Beware the one-clawed massive blue owl!! For he will rip your head off…and perhaps eat it too…? Why do you think the tree trunk looks like that…the same blue as the owl… Great work as usual Cake!! 😉

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    1. I think it is safe to assume that if you ever do come across a massive blue wounded owl… be very wary. The owl is part of nature, the discordant note is the girls head, would be my interpretation. Thanks for the comments

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  5. I did a live art installation performance in college way back in 2009 and for part of my piece, I decided to get four big blue pieces of cardboard and attach 4 blue feathers to it. I wrote and interacted with the audience on these pieces of cardboard. I decided I would only if t someone approached me. I couldn’t /didn’t want to use my voice so I decided I would use text as one way to communicate, visual media another and nonverbal communication a third.

    I remember when I was doing my commentary I researched the symbology of colors and came across a website that explained what colors represent in Chinese symbology.
    I unconsciously chose this color for my piece and I wanted to know if there was a hidden meaning for choosing this color.
    The color blue is associated with immortality, the season spring, and advancement.
    I was strangely comforted by this because my performance was indeed a personal piece responding to what was going on in my life at that time.

    It’s a beautiful image.

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