1907 – 1996 / French painter of Argentinean-Italian roots
Leonor Fini’s life was that of a lover of freedom. As a child, she discovered her passion for drawing and painting, learning by looking at the Old Masters. The young self-taught painter thus acquired a highly sophisticated painting technique inspired by Italian Mannerism and German Romanticism, as well as Magical Realism. Commissioned works in Milan soon followed, as did friendships with the Italian pioneers of Surrealism, Carlo Carrà and Giorio De Chirico.
In 1931, Paris beckoned. There, she met the leading Surrealists – Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paul Éluard, Max Ernst, René Magritte, Salvador Dalí and Man Ray. Her imaginative and mystical works were soon included in the major Surrealist exhibitions: in 1936, for example, in both the International Surrealist Exhibition in London as well as the pioneering MoMA exhibition in New York, Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism. That same year, Fini also had her first solo exhibition in New York.
The modern social ideals of the Surrealists were extremely appealing to the young female artist, but at the same time the movement’s relationship to women was fraught with contradictions. Like no other art movement before, Surrealism placed women, sexuality, desire and the female body at the centre of their artistic production. Leonor Fini, however, proffered a subtle parry to the omnipresence of the female body in Surrealist art. In her paintings, time and again she would place slumbering male nudes towered over by alert, strong and attired female figures. In doing so, Fini reversed the balance of power and challenged art-historical motifs.
In addition to her painterly work, Fini also produced a variety of stage and costume designs for opera, ballet, theatre and film, and illustrated works by well-known authors (for example, Baudelaire’s Flowers of Evil). The artist’s reputation nevertheless slowly waned over the years and, by the time she died in Paris in 1996, she had drifted into obscurity.