The Myth of Light

Toyen-The Myth of Light 1946

For most of the Second World War Toyen lived in a tiny apartment in Nazi-Occupied Prague where she sheltered her Jewish artistic partner, the poet, photographer and object maker Jindrich Heisler from the Gestapo. To distract any unwanted attention they lived in a perpetual semi-darkness and Heisler slept in the bath-tub. “Because we lived in the darkness, Jindrich loved light,”  as Toyen later remarked about this period.

Heisler was flattered when Toyen asked him to pose of a portrait. However in typical Toyen fashion the reality of a portrait was only a springboard for an unsettling enigmatic painting. The portrait is reduced to a silhouette presenting plants that are suspended in space to a pair of gloved hands whose shadow forms a wolfs head. Does the Mythe de la lumiere depict in an elusive and mythical fashion an attempted seduction?




39 thoughts on “The Myth of Light

  1. I believe it is an attempted seduction. Having to hide in the shadows is brilliantly depicted, while the enticing gloved hands (the wolf) represents the Nazi regime. There is a small cross between the shadow’s first finger and thumb, coincidence? We see the bulbs growing towards the light. Is this suggestive of the mass conversion to Christianity in order to avoid the Germans? It almost looks like an offering. “Mythe de la lumiere” is a fantastic painting, perhaps one of my favorites. You’ve selected a wonderful Toyan to feature, lovely post Mr. Cake. ~ Miss Cranes

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    1. Thank you Miss Cranes and I love your analysis of that painting very much. Although it has been suggested that they were lovers, I don’t believe this is the case, though they were remarkably close. I want to have a selection of her work during the various stages of her productive career and this one is an excellent representative of the immediate post war period before she fled Prague, when the Stalinists took over in 1947. The wolf in this reminds me of the fox in At the Chateau Lacoste, though the symbolism is different, I think. I believe you are spot with the wolf head=Nazi Regime. Glad you enjoyed, more Toyen to follow.

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  2. I feel like I’ve been in semi-darkness, living in my bathtub. I decided to turn on the light this morning…and take a shower instead…. I love this painting. Is the wolf going to eat the plant? Or is it just barking at it? I notice the wolf’s head is not only smaller but lower than the…yanked at the roots…plant. This could mean so many different things. Couldn’t it Cake? Thank you, as usual, for a wonderful post.

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    1. Thank you, I am glad you enjoyed. My previous two posts were also about/works by this artist. Please stop by and comment. It is a marvellous painting with a depth of symbolism, the meaning of each is, as always, with symbolism open to interpretation. I do think it is an attempted seduction

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  3. The uprooted plant – a displaced life? Soon to die with out finding new soil and water? Presented to the person who can save him? Ah, but then facing the wolf’s head doesn’t make sense if it represents the Nazis. But if it merely represents rebuttal of an attempt at seduction? I’m sure that’s all wrong.

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    1. The wolfs head is the shadow of the gloved hands. Another possible explanation is that the shadow is offering a new life to the gloved hands, which will cause them to be up-rooted, however it is something. The wolf is a canine that will bite the hand that feeds. Toyen paintings are full of animals, the fox in the Chateau La Coste, the moths is Screens, the owl in the Message of the Forest. Her nature though is a Sadean nature, vast and devouring.

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      1. Yes I got that about the shadow being the wolf’s hands. Hands concealed by gloves… that’s something too. To me the plant seems in a precarious state, to live or to die. And it’s not a traditional offering of plucked flowers so it says something else. I will stop now

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      2. It was just another possible explanation…I think it was a very difficult period for Toyen, and she fled Prague with Heisler the next year when it became apparent what the new Communist regime was going to be like. However, considering the whole state of affairs in Central Europe during WWII and its aftermath Heisler and Toyen where fortunate (but in such circumstances do we count ourselves lucky that other people are in even greater misery?)

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  4. The painting here could be suggestive of fear … The wolf attempting to attack the hands holding the plant.

    It could further be interpreted as a misconception arising out of our own mindset for the what that man sees is a reflection of wolf and not the wolf itself.

    The painting is indeed a brilliant work of art interpretation of which is left to those who consume it. Looking forward to your series which you mentioned in response to the posts above. Much love … Sugarsatchet


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