National Museum of Women in the Arts
Leonor Fini
August 30 1908 - January 19 1996
Photograph of Leonor Fini, unknown date, unknown photographer, courtesy of the Estate of Leonor Fini, Paris, France
Place of Birth:
Buenos Aires
French, Italian
Phonetic Spelling:
lay-oh-nohr fee-nee
Work Type/Media:
Drawings and prints, Painting, Textiles and clothing
Artistic Role(s):
Costume Designer, Etcher, Illustrator, Lithographer, Painter, Portraitist, Poster Artist, Self-taught Artist, Watercolorist, Set Designer
Other, Surrealism
Artist's Biography:
Leonor Fini was a well-known French painter and set designer; her own life lived with panache and elegance, deftly wrapping drama into her works. Born in Buenos Aires to Italian and Argentinean parents, she grew up in Trieste, Italy, where it is said that she was part of a group exhibition at the age of seventeen. Raised by her strong-willed and independent mother, Fini’s childhood consisted of a highly bohemian milieu filled with art, books, and opulence. She was a virtually self-taught artist, learning anatomy directly from studying cadavers and absorbing lessons from the old masters by means of books and museum visits.

Fini’s growing artistic reputation in Trieste lead her first to Milan where she had her first solo exhibition in 1929, and then to Paris in 1937. Her vivacious and eccentric personality instantly garnered a spotlight in the Parisian art world and she soon developed close relationships with the leading avant-garde Surrealists including Salvador Dalí, Man Ray, and Max Ernst. Although she exhibited with them, she never considered herself a Surrealist. While the Surrealism of André Breton, Dalí, and others was based on a misogynistic language of violent eroticism, Fini’s figures conveyed a powerful feminine subconscious, a bold proclamation of female sexuality. Fini's ethereal worlds built a magical stage for erotic spirits and the pale visions of albino femmes fatales. Her characteristic subjects—sphinxes, felines, nymphs, priestesses, nudes—are ghostly and sexual. They are females with petulant faces, their heads shaven or crowned with immense coifs. As she grew older, her figures became larger and the narratives more overtly sexual, colors were emboldened, and compositions became more design-conscious.

Fini was also an important artist of the theater, a talent fostered from a love for extravagant masks, outlandish costumes, and fantastical drama. She created award-winning set designs, costumes, and posters for the Paris Opera and the Metropolitan Opera Association, including ballet productions by George Balanchine, Wagner's Tannhäuser, Racine's Bérénice, and John Huston’s film A Walk with Love and Death.

Among Fini’s other accomplishments are countless works in graphic media portraying erotic figures created with vibrant, brutally incisive strokes of a fine pen. Conversely, her monochromatic watercolor studies of the head of a pensive woman, demonstrate her tender attention to the subtle and ephemeral human form. In addition, Fini illustrated over sixty-five books with etchings, lithographs, and silkscreens, including works by Edgar Allen Poe, Baudelaire, Shakespeare, and her own tales and novels.

Other Occupation(s):
Place(s) of Residence:
Where Trained/Schools:
Related Visual Artists:
friend of Pavel Tchelitchew friend of Max Ernst friend of Salvador Dalí friend of Man Ray friend of Leonora Carrington friend of Meret Oppenheim influenced by Carlo Carrà
Fellowships, grants and awards:
Member, Académie Royale de Belgique, Brussels, Belgium (1977)
Earliest exhibition:
Barbaroux Galleria, Milan, Italy (1929)
Artist retrospective(s):
Leonor Fini, Museum of Modern Art, Gunma, Japan (2005) Leonor Fini: The Artist as Designer, CFM Gallery, New York, NY, USA (1992)
Related places
Paris (died at)