Leonor Fini

Page from Leonor Fini - Graphique - Illustration tiree du Satyricon, couleurs
© Estate of Leonor Fini/Editions Clairefontaine, 1976.

Leonor Fini Biog. - #FemaleArtIsTheBest

Argentine painter.
Born: Buenos Aires, 1907.
Died: 1996

biography | books | cats gallery | gallery | graphic gallery

Born in Buenos Aires, 1907, to an Argentine father and an Italian mother, the life of Leonor Fini began in utter turmoil. Her parent's strife ridden marriage ended before Fini was a year old. After their divorce, Fini's mother gathered up Leonor and their belongings and returned to Italy.

Leonor Fini exhibition posters @ ebay.com (direct link)

leonor finileonor finileonor finileonor finileonor fini

Settling in the northern Italian city of Trieste, Fini's mother began a peaceful new life. This was soon over as her ex-husband travelled to Italy to kidnap Leonor and take her back to Argentina. With no help from local authorities, and no legal protection against such actions, Fini's mother nonetheless outwitted her estranged husband. For six nightmare years she disguised Leonor as a boy whenever they ventured out of the house. As absurd as this may seem, it worked. Her husband gave up his mission and returned to Argentina, never to be seen again.

Fini's career also began in a traumatic way. In her early teens she suffered an eye disease that forced her to wear bandages on both eyes. Living in a world of darkness for quite some time, she had little to do but develop her inner vision. She spent her days visualizing fantastic images, and after her recovery, decided to become an artist.

As she did with everything, Fini pursued art with passion, determination, and conviction. She visited museums regularly, and studied renaissance masters, Mannerism, Romanticism and the Pre Raphaelites. Instead of busying herself with the usual juvenile concerns, Fini immersed herself in her uncle's large collection of artbooks. Consequently, her talent grew rapidly and at the tender age of seventeen, Fini had her debut exhibit in a Trieste gallery. More amazing, word of her talent reached Milan, a major Italian art center. The city's upper eschalon loved Fini's work and commissioned portraits by the young master. This early display of talent earned her the friendship of renowned Italian artists such as Funi, Carra, and Tosi.

Her early induction to Europe's plethora of avant garde movements caused her to mature quickly in originality, philosophical development, and personality. It also inspired her trademark sense of autonomy and non-conformism which she embraced with the same passion as she did with art.

Her eccentric persona and flamboyant dress was rivalled only by Dali. This was not posturing showmanship but a form of integral surrealist expression that uses the entire body as theatre to protest against conventional society.

She was only eighteen when Fini arrived in Paris, but her art quickly found its way into galleries. Art writer/curator Whitney Chadwick says of this period in Fini's life:

   "In Paris she became a legend almost overnight. When one of the Surrealists saw a painting of hers in a Paris gallery in 1936 and sought out its creator, she arranged a rendezvous in a local cafe and arrived dressed in a cardinal's scarlet robes, which she had purchased in a clothing store specializing in clerical vestments. 'I liked the sacrilegious nature of dressing as a priest, and the experience of being a woman and wearing the clothes of a man who would never know a woman's body.' "

This bizarre meeting prompted Eluard, Ernst, Magritte, and Brauner to introduce Fini to the Surrealist Group. She developed friendships with the women members of the movement and participated in surrealist exhibits. To everyone's complete surprise Fini not only refused to join the group, she denied being a surrealist. Though it is said she did not join because of Andre Breton's authoritarian leadership, she had more fundamentalreasons. Like Dali and Artaud, Fini saw the group's obsession with treatise and theories not as radical, but as a manifestation of what Dali called "typical petit bourgeois mentality".

For her, surrealism was beyond manifestos and theories. In the sexual realm, she found the group homophobic and misogynist despite its endeavors to idealize women and liberate sexual desire without the interference of morality. John B.Myers, a gallery dealer who documented his experiences with surrealists, wrote of this double standard:

    "The sexuality in which he (Breton) was involved was rigorously against what he considered perversion. For example, he detested male homosexuality to the point where he once threatened to expel a member of the surrealist movement if he didn't get married. On the other hand, voyeurism and lesbianism disturbed him not at all..."
    (Myers 1969, 11-12)

Fini was not without ideological contradictions of her own. Despite her denial of being a surrealist, she adhered to many of surrealism's tenants. In fact they played an integral role in her quest to envision a "new woman". For instance, Fini claimed to use images from her subconscious, adopted Georges Bataille's philosophy of a return to the mythological, spiritual and visionary aspects of primal cultures.

She founded her methodology on surrealism's tenant of delving into the self and described herself as living a life in revolt. She used surrealism as both a weapon against the onslaught of pre-historic social conventions and a tool for constructing a modern society that allowed female participation in existence. According to art writer/educator Julie Byrd:

    "Profound belief in the ability to shape the exterior world according to one's desire is rare among womenof Fini's generation. Cultivating her own individuality, she placed her own freedom and autonomy to a degree that seems the embodiment of the surrealist ideal, but that was, in fact, equalled by few surrealists."

Refusal to consider herself a surrealist and her willingness to nonetheless align herself with the movement was never an issue with the Surrealists. It was not unusual for the group to seek allies and sympathizers from non-members and similar revolutionary movements. Picasso and Giacommetti were among these allies, however their affiliations were temporary and sporadic. She was perhaps the only outsider who consistently kept close to the group.

Fini's extensive oeuvre has been an invaluable contribution to the development of a modern feminine consciousness, but her version differed somewhat from the other women surrealists. In contrast with Remedios Varo's ideal woman, Fini's was not cerebral, mystical or ironic but authoritarian, sensual, and governed by passion. She portrays them in an almost Amazonian sense: as goddesses, warriors,and voluptuaries.

Compared with Tanning and Carrington, Fini's art did not symbolically transfer female sexuality onto childhood, she placed it within the adult realm. There is none of the resentment toward masculinized society that appears in the other surrealist women's art. Neither is there the subliminal but ubiquitous sense of determinism that underlies much of their work. Varo and Kahlo depict the masculine position as arbitrary. Fini was too insolent for such kindness.

Her work simply ignores or reduces the masculine position to insignificance. Whereas most of the other surrealist women's art contains statements about female sexuality, Fini's is more a proclaimation and celebration of it. The women in her art are at once beautiful and alluring, yet powerful and threatening, embodying not only a female sexuality but that which had been thought of as exclusively male.  In that sense, Fini envisioned a historically unique--and prophetic-- feminine sexual duality absent from the other surrealist women's constructs.

After WWII, Fini's career expanded. She designed theatre sets and costumes, and did book illustrations. Her work has been exhibited in major galleries and museums throughout the world. Although the surrealist moniker followed her until her death in 1996, she always rejected categorization of any kind. She changed styles often and employed various techniques and media as if to shrug off her tenacious image as a "woman surrealist".

Her efforts had no affect on the public or the academia and perhaps never will. It is almost impossible to consider her life and her art without proclaiming her a surrealist--an extraordinary one at that.

Leonor Fini books @ ebay.co.uk (direct link to books)

biography | books | cats gallery | gallery | graphic gallery

Frida Kahlo
Leonora Carrington

Art Store

Search Site | Top of Page

Images © Estate of Leonor Fini.
All Rights Reserved.