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Leonor Fini: Dreams of Women


Leonor Fini, La Leçon de botanique, 1973, oil on canvas, 120 x 120 cm


Leonor Fini, Harmonika – 246, 1966, painting


Leonor Fini, Cariatide délivrée (1986)


Leonor Fini Pourquoi pas?, 1975


Leonor Fini was born in Buenos Aires. Her father was very wealthy but also tyrannical, with extreme religious views. He made his young wife very unhappy and, within eighteen months of Leonor’s birth, she fled back to Trieste, Italy, with the child. Leonor was raised there and would be expelled from various schools for being rebellious. Growing up, Fini took an interest in morbid subject matter and often drew cadavers at the local morgue. 

Her first contact with art was through visits to European museums and in her uncle’s large library, where she gleaned her earliest knowledge of artists such as the Pre-Raphaelites, Aubrey Beardsley and Gustav Klimt. She moved to Paris, in either 1931 or 1932, and became acquainted with Carlo Carra and Giorgio de Chirico, who influenced much of her work. She also came to know Georges Bataille, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Picasso, and Salvador Dalí. Fini had no formal artistic training, yet she was familiar with the traditional Renaissance and Mannerist styles encountered during her upbringing in Italy.

 When she was 17, she had a painting exhibited in a gallery in Trieste and received a commission to paint portraits from dignitaries in Milan, where she had her first one-woman show at the Galerie Barbaroux in 1929. Her one-woman exhibition in Paris in 1935 resulted in friendships with Paul Éluard, Max Ernst, René Magritte and Victor Brauner, bringing her into close contact with the Surrealists. Her fierce sense of independence and her dislike of the Surrealists’ authoritarian attitudes kept her, however, from officially joining the movement. Nevertheless, her works of the late 1930s and 1940s reflect her interest in Surrealist ideas. She also participated in the major international exhibitions organized by the group. Her first major exhibition was in 1936 in New York at Julian Levy Gallery. Fini was part of a pre-war generation of Parisian artists, and very important in the Surrealist movement though she is sometimes overlooked in favor of her male contemporaries. In 1943, Fini was included in Peggy Guggenheim’s show Exhibition by 31 Women at the Art of This Century gallery in New York.

Fini’s self-portraits and mythological paintings focused on eroticism and dreams. “Paintings, like dreams, have a life of their own and I have always painted very much the way I dream,” she insisted. Throughout her life, Fini always insisted on being herself which involved, among other habits, cross dressing, having love affairs with women, and eating dinner with her 23 cats. She notably designed the costumes for Federico Fellini’s film 8 ½ in 1963, and was the subject of many photographs and poems during her lifetime. Fini died on January 18, 1996 in Paris, France. 

Today, the artist’s works are held in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, and the Tate Modern in London, among others. 

Sources for images and biography: ArtnetWiki, Aware Women ArtistsNeumeister, and John and Geraldine Lilley Museum of Art

This post was curated by Michael Simms, Founding editor of Autumn House Press and Vox Populi.

2 comments on “Leonor Fini: Dreams of Women

  1. Loranneke
    April 2, 2023

    What odd and fascinating worlds in Fini’s life & art!


    • Vox Populi
      April 2, 2023

      Yes, I was surprised and delighted to discover her work recently.



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