Animal, Vegetable, Mineral: The Strange World of Leonor Fini
By Amelia Brown
A sphinx-like eccentric, artist Leonor Fini lived entirely on her own terms. Born in Argentina in 1908, Fini was spirited away by her mother at a young age, escaping an abusive father to go live in Italy. As a student, Fini learned to draw by sketching cadavers at the morgue. She eventually moved to Milan, then to Paris, where her personal flamboyance and outré style gained her entry into the art world.
Primarily remembered as a painter, Fini worked across the creative spectrum, from designing jewelry and costumes for the ballet to inventing the iconic Schiaparelli torso perfume bottle that was later adapted by Jean Paul Gaultier. While she was lesser-known, Fini’s work was exhibited alongside major surrealist female artists like Leonora Carrington, Dorothea Tanning, and Frida Kahlo. These women were also her friends, and mutual subjects, along with Freud, Kafka, Dalí, and other luminaries of the Surrealist movement. Although Fini distanced herself from the movement of Surrealism, partly alleging the misogyny of some of its leading lights like André Breton, she did show in several landmark Surrealist exhibits.
Fini’s paintings draw on various influences: the architectural elements are reminiscent of the Sienese school of the early Renaissance, the graphic patterning nods to Islamic design, the doubling of a single subject seemingly refers to photographic experiments of the day. However, the spirit of her work is uniquely her own, with female subjects often painted sitting down, nude or draped in robes, sometimes accompanied by still-life aquatic debris or synthetic mythical creatures. In her multi-figure compositions, people are usually leading one another to who-knows-where against crumbling doors and tangled flora. Fini mainly painted women, including images of self-as-sphinx and commissioned portraits of heiresses. But the men who do appear in her work are often calm and androgynous, objects of desire or ancillary characters. This is interpreted as a reflection of her atypical views regarding sexuality and gender. A personal renegade, aesthetic nonconformist, and wild woman, Fini has been considered perhaps a more interesting person than painter. Yet while relegated to the lower rungs of Surrealist history, her art maintains an idiosyncratic allure and deserves a fresh excavation.
References: France and the Americas: Culture, Politics, and History by Bill Marshall, Leonor Fini Website
Artist Image Credit: Eddy Brofferio