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Leonor Fini

Italian Surrealist Painter, Designer, Illustrator, and Author

Leonor Fini Photo
Movements and Styles: Surrealism, Magic Realism, Symbolism

Born: August 30, 1907 - Buenos Aires, Argentina

Died: January 18, 1996 - Paris, France

"I have always loved, and lived, my own theatre."

Leonor Fini Signature

Summary of Leonor Fini

Throughout a long career, the canvases of Leonor Fini's journey between the pains of despair and the serenity of enlightenment but remain polished with eroticism at every extreme. Driven by passion, liberty, and sexual experimentation, she was arguably the most rebellious, theatrical, and autonomous of the female Surrealists. Described by many to be particularly tall and commanding in physical appearance with very unusual cat-like eyes, in many ways she was more creaturely than human. Taking the artistic interest in the motif of an animal/human hybrid somewhat literally, she stood as an embodiment of feline transformation and metamorphosis, and came to accurately identify herself with the ancient figure of a Sphinx. Deadly in Greek tradition, whilst benevolent but ferocious in Egyptian stories, the appearance of the mythical creature is symbolic of Fini's love for artifice and nature combined.

Although she exhibited with the Surrealists, Fini's staunch individuality was often at odds with the collective ideas of the group. Unlike many women who became central to the movement, she was not impressed by the charisma and intellectualism of male members. Already well read and versed in psychoanalytic theory, Fini refused to be submissive or subordinate to men. She formed an intense friendship with Leonora Carrington in the summer before the onset of World War II, but in general did not draw upon the support of other women in the way that Carrington and Remedios Varo did. She lived more flamboyantly and communally and always with two men, one as her lover and one as her friend.

Key Ideas

Brought up in Italy, Fini studied Renaissance and Mannerist painting, and while rejecting earlier artistic qualities of balance, proportion, and ideal beauty she instead exaggerated and elongated limbs and facial features in her portraits and conjured the same unsettling instability and tension encountered in 16th century Mannerist canvases. It is remarkable that Fini had no formal artistic training, as she was technically impeccably skilled.
The artist lived a life directed by unrestrained passion and desire. Unlike Dorothea Tanning who explored early childhood encounters with sensuality, Fini explored uncensored adult eroticism. She enjoyed fantasy and role-play; she would often wear masks, dress in men's clothes (including priestly robes), and deliberately tear her own outfits. Along with the Czech Surrealist, Toyen, Fini was the only woman to directly illustrate some of the 19th century sexual revolutionary and pornographer's writing, that of the Marquis de Sade.
Fini was utterly fascinated by death and since the age of thirteen had regularly visited the morgue in Trieste. She spent hours studying and drawing both adorned and untouched corpses. Whilst the likes of Georges Bataille and André Masson theorized such underbelly interests and formally defined them as 'base materialism', the importance of living surrounded by one's own mortality was for Fini, as well as for Frida Kahlo , Carrington, and Remedios Varo, simply an individual reality which they had all reached intuitively.
Fini mourns 'infertility' in her paintings, a theme shared with Kahlo and the two have motifs in common. However, for Fini, the decision not to have children was absolute and voluntary (by hysterectomy) and as such she does not explore notions of 'maternity' in the same way as Kahlo, Carrington, Varo, and Dorothea Tanning. She does though reveal an eternal love for cats (a lot like Tanning's connection to small dogs), exposing her need for attachment, and at the same time making a statement on the combined civilized and beastly nature of human beings.
Leonor Fini Photo

Leonor Fini, originally called Eleonora, was born in Buenos Aires in 1907. Her Italian mother Malvina, married Herminio Fini, a wealthy businessman also of Italian background, and together they moved to Argentina. The two separated when Fini was just a baby and Malvina quickly moved back home to Trieste in Italy with her daughter. Raised entirely by her independent mother, Fini experienced a free and bohemian lifestyle from an early age. The separation between the artist's parents was not simple; Herminio fought for the custody of Fini and once tried to kidnap her. As result, Fini spent some of her childhood years disguised as a boy, likely initiating a lifelong fascination for dressing up.

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