Leonor Fini is one of the few women to be closely associated with the Surrealist Group, although Fini herself did not see her self as a Surrealist at all and rejected membership. Still she remained a fellow traveler of the Surrealists throughout her career, although in many ways her work—a sensuous celebration of female sexuality—tweaks the misogynistic and homophobic tendencies of movement, especially its founder Andre Breton (who was all for lesbianism). Her work has been represented in nearly every major Surrealist exhibition.
Much is made of the artist’s good looks and upfront sexuality. Fini was famously photographed naked—and clean shaven—floating in a pool by Henri Cartier-Bresson. (This photograph sold for over $300,000 in 2007). Fiercely bohemian, she also lived in not one, but two menage-a-trois relationships. When she died her obituaries were as much about famous men she’d slept with as her own career, but Fini kowtowed to no man, she lived life completely on her own terms, a feminist long before the term existed.
Hurry, Hurry, Hurry, My Dolls Are Waiting (1975)
It has been said of Fini, that she was a “female Dali” and in many ways this is true. The narcissistic artist was an imposing presence in any room with her beauty and flamboyant fashions. And like the Divine Dali, her art came from a place deep inside her, as she was forced to develop a inner vision during extended teenage bouts with an ocular ailment that saw her eyes bandaged shut for months at a time. When the bandages came off, she wished to document what she had been inwardly visualizing and declared herself an artist.
The self-taught Fini began to exhibit her art at the age of seventeen and she knew anyone worth knowing in Paris and internationally. She also designed clothing and ballet and opera sets. Her design for the bottle of Elsa Schiaparelli’s Shocking perfume is considered iconic. She is one of the most photographed people of the 20th century and famously attended dozens of costume balls in elaborate costumes. She was always in magazines. During her lifetime she was quite a big name, although by the time of her death in 1996, she’d become a bit obscure. The French government even refused to take paintings in lieu of back taxes owed by her estate, although she was called “...the most undervalued artist of the 20th Century” by the Art Dealers Association of America.
A reappraisal of her work seems due and this appears to be happening with the publication of a monograph/biography of Fini titled Sphinx: The Life and Art of Leonor Fini, written by her friend, art critic Peter Webb. It is an absolutely superb and beautiful volume—it’s sitting beside me as I type this—truly it’s one of the finest crafted objects I’ve seen in some time. If you’re looking for a nice coffee table book that will knock someone’s socks off for a gift, this is it.