Leonor Fini is considered one of the most important women artists of the mid-twentieth century, along with Leonora Carrington, Frida Kahlo, Meret Oppenheim, Remedios Varo, and Dorothea Tanning – most of whom Fini knew well.
Born in Buenos Aires in 1907 (August 30 – January 18, 1996, Paris) to Italian and Argentine parents, Leonor grew up in Trieste, Italy. She was a virtually self-taught artist, learning anatomy directly from studying cadavers in the local morgue and absorbing composition and technique from the Old Masters through books and visits to museums.
Fini’s fledging attempts at painting in Trieste let her to Milan, where she participated in her first group exhibition in 1929, and then to Paris in 1931. Her vivacious personality and flamboyant attire instantly garnered her a spotlight in the Parisian art world and she soon developed close relationships with the leading surrealist writers and painters, including Paul Eluard, Salvador Dali, Man Ray, and Max Ernst.
The American dealer Julien Levy, very much impressed by Fini’s painting and smitten by her eccentric charms, invited her to New York in 1936, where she took part in a joint gallery exhibition with Max Ernst and met many American surrealists, including Joseph Cornell and Pavel Tchelitchew. Her work was included in MoMA’s pivotal Fantastic Art, Dada and Surrealism exhibition, along with De Chirico, Dali, Ernst, and Yves Tanguy.
Talented, glamorous, and controversial, Leonor Fini was a frequent subject of poems and photographs by many members of her circle, including Charles Henri Ford, Paul Eluard, Georges Hugnet, Erwin Blumenfeld, Dora Maar, Man Ray, Georges Platt Lynes, Lee Miller, Horst, Brassaï, Cecil Beaton, and Henri Cartier-Bresson.