Fini, Leonor (1908–1996)

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Fini, Leonor (1908–1996)

Italian-Argentinean artist . Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1908; died of pneumonia in Paris, France, on January 18, 1996; only child of an Argentine father and an Italian mother.

Selected paintings:

Sphinx philagria (1945); Sphinx Regina (1946); The Angel of Anatomy (1949); The Two Skulls (1950); The Emerging Ones (1958); Capital Punishment (1960); Sfinge la Morte (1973); The Lesson on Botany (1974).

By the time of her death, Leonor Fini had achieved cult status in Paris art and theater circles. She was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1908, the only child of an Argentine father and an Italian mother who separated shortly after her birth. Fini spent her childhood with her mother in Trieste, Italy, although her father sought custody of her from time to time, and on one occasion supposedly hired thugs to kidnap her. Interested in painting from childhood, she was largely self-taught. In a 1954 interview, she described her visits to the local morgue, where she drew the cadavers, and remarked that her quasi-religious contemplation of the corpses stayed on in her spiritual life. In 1925, she went to Milan, where she was influenced by artists Carlo Carrà, Achille Funi, and Arturo Tosi. Later in Paris, she became friendly with the painters of the burgeoning Surrealist movement, including Leonora Carrington , Salvador Dali, and Max Ernst. Although Fini occasionally exhibited with the group, she never completely aligned herself with their goals or the pronouncements of their leader André Breton. However, as Nancy Heller notes in Women Artists, her paintings often contain elements related to the movement: "Fini's realistic treatment of a strange world and the importance she attached to unconscious vision, whether it involves cruelty, eroticism, the fantastic, or bizarre metamorphoses, are compatible with Surrealism."

During World War II, Fini lived in Monaco, and then in Rome with artist Stanislau Lepri. In 1947, she returned to Paris, where in addition to painting she designed sets and costumes for the theater, opera, and films and illustrated books. Her painting continued to evolve, and her female form, with its shaved head and rigid body, became a trademark. Death, which Fini equated with stillness, immobility, and the ideal, was also a recurring theme. Skeletons and bones often appeared in her work, particularly during the decade following World War II. Sometimes presented as part of living beings (The Emerging Ones [1958] and Sfinge la Morte [1973]), they served as representations of not only death but metamorphosis, the change to something "other."

Leonor Fini cultivated a personal style that was as unique as her work. Beautiful and dramatic, she favored long skirts, thick dark eyeliner, large jewelry, and hats. She was said to take a number of cats wherever she went, and by one account delighted in donning masks that transformed her into a feline or birdlike creature. The artist died in Paris at the age of 87.


Heller, Nancy. Women Artists. NY: Abbeville Press, 1987.

Sutherland, Anne, and Linda Nochlin. Women Artists 1550–1950. NY: Knopf, 1976.

Uglow, Jennifer S., comp. and ed. The International Dictionary of Women's Biography. NY: Continuum, 1985.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts