Born in Buenos Aires to an Argentine father and an Italian mother, Fini grew up in Trieste with her mother, after her parents separated when she was a year old. Her early work already leaned toward surrealism—in 1936 she participated in the London Surrealist Exhibition at the Burlington Galleries and a show organized by the Museum of Modern Art in New York titled, Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism. Her first exhibition, at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York, featured a catalog preface by de Chirico. In a mannerist style, Léonor Fini described a world of roots, larvae, animal skulls, turbid waters and undergrowth, ruled by witches and monsters—particularly the sphinx with a woman's head. Often these creatures were bent with vampiric lust over a sleeping youth (Sphynx Amalburga, 1942: Stryges Amaouri, 1948). She illustrated several books, including Shakespeare's Sonnets (1949), published a series of engravings titled Portraits de Famille (1950), designed costumes for Renato Castellani's film Romeo and Juliet (1953), and created the sets for a number of plays, such as Racine's Bérénice for Jean-Louis Barrault (1955) and Panizza's Council of Love for Jorge Lave (1968). Her painting went through the mothers period—depicting women watching over a sacred egg, in red or black—then evolved toward evocations of nude, sylphlike creatures secluded in a leafy setting or a gorgeous room, gossamer apparitions behind a window pane and scenes of sexual initiation, with a technique resembling enamaling. Her retrospective in 1965, at the Casino of Knokke-het Zoute in Belgium, showed her progression from the baroque to a subtler art, its perverse or secret contents enhanced by undulating forms. But her consecration dates to her later retrospective, in 1986, at the Musée du Luxembourg, featuring eighty paintings, gouaches, illustrated books and masks.  

Léonor Fini

Born 1908 in Buenos Aires; died 1996 in Paris. 

The Ends of the Earth, Oil on Canvas, 1949