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Fini, Leonorlocked

Italian, 20th century, female.

Active from 1933, then naturalised in France.

Born 30 August 1908, in Buenos Aires, to Italian parents; died 18 January 1996, in Paris.

Painter (including gouache), watercolourist, pastellist, engraver, draughtswoman (including ink), illustrator. Figure compositions, figures, portraits, animals. Stage costumes and sets, screens.

Surrealist group.

Leonor FINI: signature or monogram

Leonor Fini began to paint at a very young age. Her early influences were the painters of the 15th century, and the 16th-century Mannerists, whose languid grace fascinated her as a child, as did the German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich. She studied in Trieste, then in Milan, where she was influenced by Carlo Carrà. She began taking part in activities organised by the Surrealist group as early as 1933, in Paris (where she was living) and London; then in New York, Zurich and Brussels, in 1938.

Fini had a penchant for satire and the written word, and was passionate about masks, and so was naturally drawn to the stage. Some of her best work was for the theatre and the ballet: Leonor's Dream for the Ballets des Champs-Élysées, in 1945; Wagner's Tannhäuser; The Crystal Palace, in 1947 at the Paris Opéra; The Ladies of the Night in 1948, at Roland Petit's Ballets de Paris; Berenice in 1955, for the Jean-Louis Barrault company; and The Maids by Jean Genêt, in 1961. She also worked on a film, Castellani's Romeo and Juliet, in 1953. She was also an illustrator, watercolourist and engraver. Among other works, she illustrated Shakespeare's Sonnets (1949) and The Tempest (1965); De Sade's Juliette (1944); poems by Edgar Allan Poe, Francis Ponge, Jean Cocteau and others for Family Portraits in 1950; The Story of O by Pauline Réage (the pseudonym of Dominique Aury) in 1962; and Les Fleurs du Mal (The Flowers of Evil), by Charles Baudelaire, in 1964.

Physically, Fini's works tap into the classical tradition, which is often the case with the Surrealists: according to the precepts of André Breton, their aim was to present photographs of dreams. Her paintings successively featured silhouettes of adolescent girls, fantasy landscapes, bald women, germination (rendered in an almost abstract style), then back to figures again, which are still imbued with a strange atmosphere. When these works clearly and deliberately refer to the fantastic, her recourse to morbid eroticism can sometimes appeare forced. Perhaps the principal quality of her work is the truly disturbing atmosphere she creates, via the antiquated beauty of an age-old technique, and the ambiguous nature of her subjects. The strangely seductive sight of a young ephebe wrapped in fur is accentuated by the manner in which he is rendered: the use of ancient techniques gives him an almost religious quality, while the sumptuous furs and heavy fabrics heighten the stifling climate of the painting. Among her many works, some of the best known are: The Shepherdess of the Sphinx (1941); Portrait of Jean Genêt (1949-1950); Spinners (1954); Portrait of Sylvia Monfort (1955); and The Secret Party (1965). In the 1970s she produced a series of paintings entitled Vertigo Games, about which she wrote: 'In these games the important thing is the loss of consciousness, the happy collapse of the self. The back-and-forth motion of a swing starts with euphoria and laughter, and becomes absence and vertigo, which makes it difficult to stop: this is the attraction of the void.'

Fini took part in the 1936 exhibition Surrealism at the Burlington Gallery in London; and the exhibition Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (also in 1936). Since her death, her work has appeared in various thematic group exhibitions, including: The Surrealist Revolution ( La Révolution surréaliste) at the Pompidou Centre in Paris, in 2002; and Phantom of Desire. Visions of Masochism in Art ( Phantom der Lust. Visionen des Masochismus in der Kunst), an exhibition dedicated to Sacher-Masoch, the originator of the term 'masochism', at the Neue Galerie am Ladesmuseum in Graz.

During her lifetime Fini staged a number of solo exhibitions of her work. After her first solo exhibition in Milan she held another in Paris, in 1932. Next she exhibited in New York, in 1936: Paul Éluard and Giorgio de Chirico wrote the preface to the catalogue. In 1986 there was a complete retospective of her work at the Musée du Luxembourg in Paris, comprising 80 paintings, along with gouaches, drawings, watercolours, books and masks. Since her death there have been several exhibitions devoted to her work: Glances through the Door of the Unusual ( Regards à la porte de l'insolite), at La Malmaison in Cannes, in 2002; Leonor Fini and the Portrait ( Leonor fini et le portrait) followed by The Upside-Down Void: Paintings and Drawings ( Le vide à lenvers. Peintures, dessins), at the Galerie Minsky in Paris, also in 2002; and Leonor Fini: Theatre ( Leonor Fini, Théâtre), at the Galerie Minsky again, in 2003.

Museum and Gallery Holdings

Paris (MNAM-CCI): Woman Dressed up

Venice (Collezione Peggy Guggenheim): The Shepherdess of the Sphinx

Auction Records

Paris, 21 June 1960: Tree, FRF 850

New York, 23 March 1961: Roberto, USD 425

Paris, 14 March 1974: Portrait of Eddy Brofferio, FRF 48,000; Mandilia, FRF 82,000

Versailles, 18 June 1974: Swing No 2, FRF 225,000

London, 4 Dec 1974: Parcel, GBP 17,000

Paris, 22 June 1976: Face (oil on card, 25¼ × 19¾ ins/64 × 50 cm) FRF 19,000

Versailles, 27 Nov 1977: Gathering of Women (oil on panel, 63¾ × 45 ins/162 × 114 cm) FRF 33,000

Toulouse, 5 Dec 1977: Face (watercolour, 13½ × 9¾ ins/34 × 25 cm) FRF 6,000

Antwerp, 8 May 1979: Mourmour (watercolour, 24¾ × 19 ins/63 × 48 cm) BEF 140,000

Enghien-les-Bains, 27 May 1979: Alice (pen drawing, 11¾ × 15¼ ins/30 × 38.5 cm) FRF 6,500

New York, 2 April 1981: Head of a Woman (1948, Indian ink and coloured inks/paper, 12¾ × 10 ins/32.5 × 25.1 cm) USD 2,250

Milan, 24 Oct 1983: Woman-Lion (tempera/card, 30 × 22 ins/76 × 56 cm) ITL 15,000,000

Zurich, 9 Nov 1984: Head of a Woman (Indian ink, 25½ × 19¾ ins/65 × 50 cm) CHF 6,000

Enghien-les-Bains, 25 Nov 1984: Operation II (1941, oil on canvas, 36¼ × 25½ ins/92 × 65 cm) FRF 235,000

Paris, 26 June 1986: The Ladies of the Night (gouache and watercolour/olive green paper, 12½ × 10 ins/32 × 25.3 cm) FRF 22,000

London, 30 June 1987: Trying on (c. 1958, oil on canvas, 46 × 35 ins/116 × 89 cm) GBP 52,000

Lokeren, 28 May 1988: Two Figures (wash, 15½ × 13 ins/39.5 × 33 cm) BEF 38,000

Paris, 1 June 1988: Couple (brown ink, 16½ × 13¾ ins/42 × 35 cm) FRF 6,500

Paris, 12 June 1988: Female Face (1945, watercolour and Indian ink/paper, 13 × 9 ins/33 × 23 cm) FRF 20,000

Paris, 23 June 1988: Young Woman (oil on canvas, 28¼ × 19¼ ins/72 × 49 cm) FRF 140,000

London, 29 June 1988: Capital Punishment (1969, oil on canvas, 47¼ × 47¼ ins/120 × 120 cm) GBP 44,000

New York, 6 Oct 1988: Composition with Figures on a Terrace (1938, oil on canvas, 39¼ × 32 ins/99.5 × 81 cm) USD 154,000; Pink Sphinx: Autumn (watercolour and ink, 11¾ × 8½ ins/30 × 21.5 cm) USD 6,050

London, 19 Oct 1988: Portrait of Mrs H (1941, oil on canvas, 7 ins/18 cm, ¾ × 5½ ins/2 × 14 cm, ½ ins/1 cm) GBP 2,970

London, 29 Nov 1988: Young Girl in a Green Dress (oil on canvas, 32 × 26¾ ins/81.3 × 68 cm) GBP 38,500

Paris, 23 Jan 1989: Portrait of a Young Woman (watercolour and gouache/bistre-coloured paper, 17¾ × 12¼ ins/45 × 31 cm) FRF 22,000

London, 22 Feb 1989: Elective Antinomies (1959, oil on canvas, 29 × 20 ins/73.5 × 50.5 cm) GBP 8,800

Rome, 21 March 1989: Portrait of a Young Girl (oil on canvas, 10¼ × 9 ins/26 × 22 cm) ITL 12,000,000

London, 5 April 1989: Child's Bedroom (1971, oil on canvas, 51¼ × 32 ins/130 × 81 cm) GBP 49,500

New York, 17 May 1989: Portrait of a Young Man (oil on canvas, 16½ × 13 ins/42 × 33 cm) USD 11,000

Paris, 6 July 1989: Actors: Hamlet Series (1954, oil on canvas, 35½ × 28 ins/90 × 71 cm) FRF 820,000

Paris, 29 Sept 1989: Three Figures (pen drawing, 13¾ × 10 ins/35 × 25.5 cm) FRF 12,000

London, 28 Nov 1989: Owl (oil on card, 9¼ × 6¼ ins/23.7 × 16 cm) GBP 14,300

Milan, 19 Dec 1989: Small Harbour (1928, oil on panel, 23 × 25¼ ins/57.5 × 64 cm) ITL 16,000,000

Paris, 22 Jan 1990: Couple (Indian ink drawing, 11¾ × 9 ins/30 × 22 cm) FRF 10,500

London, 2 April 1990: The Four Seasons (oil on paper/canvas, four panels, each 53¼ × 16 ins/135 × 40.5 cm) GBP 385,000

Paris, 26 April 1990: Life and Death (screen, 62¼ × 19 ins/158 × 48 cm) FRF 75,000

Paris, 19 June 1990: Asphodels (1966-1967, oil on canvas, 39¼ × 25½ ins/100 × 65 cm) FRF 400,000

Paris, 6 Oct 1990: Portrait of a Young Woman (watercolour and pastel, 15¼ × 9 ins/39 × 22 cm) FRF 30,000

Paris, 16 March 1991: Madame X (c. 1948-1949, oil on canvas, 36½ × 25½ ins/93 × 65 cm) FRF 115,000

London, 19 March 1991: Swing I (1975, oil on canvas, diam. 46½ ins/118 cm) GBP 44,000

New York, 9 May 1992: Ephebe (watercolour/paper/card, 12¾ × 9¼ ins/32.7 × 23.8 cm) USD 990

Lokeren, 5 Dec 1992: Couple (watercolour, 14¼ × 11¾ ins/36 × 30 cm) BEF 100,000

Sceaux, 13 Dec 1992: Feminine Dance (watercolour and gouache, 13¾ × 9½ ins/35 × 24 cm) FRF 7,500

Paris, 28 May 1993: Portrait of a Woman

Paris, 28 June 1993: Painting (oil on canvas/wood, 67¼ × 27½ ins/171 × 70 cm) FRF 180,000

Lokeren, 9 Oct 1993: Warrior and Woman (gouache and pastel, 17¾ × 15 ins/45 × 38 cm) BEF 240,000

Lokeren, 12 March 1994: Two Figures (mixed media/oil paint background, 17¼ × 14½ ins/44 × 37 cm) BEF 220,000

Paris, 24 June 1994: Black Mass (watercolour, 21¼ × 15¾ ins/54 × 40 cm) FRF 11,000

Paris, 18 Oct 1994: Two Women in Hats (1960, oil on canvas, 22 × 15½ ins/55.7 × 39.4 cm) FRF 87,000

Le Touquet, 21 May 1995: Two Friends (Indian ink) FRF 5,000

London, 25 Oct 1995: Portrait of André Pieyre de Mandiargues (1942, oil on canvas, 13 × 9 ins/33 × 22 cm) GBP 8,280; Woman in a Big Hat (1967, oil on card, 11 × 13½ ins/27 × 34 cm) GBP 12,075

Zurich, 14 Nov 1995: Double Constancy (oil on canvas, 39¼ × 25½ ins/100 × 65 cm) CHF 23,000

Calais, 24 March 1996: Bird-Woman (watercolour, 9 × 7¾ ins/22 × 20 cm) FRF 19,000

Paris, 24 May 1996: Three Faces (ink and wash, 9 × 7 ins/22 × 18 cm) FRF 8,000

Amsterdam, 4 June 1996: Head (oil/card, 7¾ × 6 ins/20 × 15 cm) NLG 2,714

Paris, 30 Sept 1996: La Belle Dorothée (c. 1980, oil on paper/canvas, 15 × 11 ins/38 × 28 cm) FRF 55,000

New York, 10 Oct 1996: Portrait of a Woman (1940, oil on canvas, 8 × 6½ ins/20.3 × 16.5 cm) USD 8,050

London, 23 Oct 1996: Figure (watercolour, pen and ink/paper, 11 × 7 ins/28 × 18 cm) GBP 1,610

London, 3 Dec 1996: Sphinx (oil on paper, 12¼ × 16¼ ins/31.1 × 41 cm) GBP 18,400

Lokeren, 8 March 1997: Two Figures (watercolour and pastel, 13 × 9 ins/33 × 23 cm) BEF 65,000; Romeo and Juliet (1977, oil on canvas, 16¼ × 13 ins/41 × 33 cm) BEF 240,000

Calais, 23 March 1997: Dancer (watercolour, 14¼ × 11¾ ins/36 × 30 cm) FRF 11,000

Paris, 4 July 1997: Fruits of Passion No 3 (gouache/mauve background, 16½ × 13 ins/42 × 33 cm) FRF 11,800

Paris, 9 March 1998: Two Young Women (pen, 11½ × 8¼ ins/29 × 21 cm) FRF 4,000

London, 29 June 1999: Rasch, Rasch, Rasch (1975, oil on canvas, 45 × 57 ins/114 × 146 cm) GBP 60,000

Paris, 30 June 1999: Comedians (c. 1954, oil on canvas, 35 × 28 ins/90 × 71 cm) FRF 250,000

Paris, 21 April 2000: Cabinet Decorated with Female Birds, with Two Open Doors (painted box, 87 × 55 × 14 ins/220 × 140 × 36 cm) FRF 240,000

London, 29 June 2000: Portrait of a Fairy (oil on canvas, 41 × 21 ins/103 × 54 cm) GBP 27,000

Paris, 5 Feb 2001: Game of Truth (oil on canvas, 35 × 50 ins/88 × 128 cm) FRF 400,000

Paris, 18 Nov 2001: Presumed Portrait of Marie-Laure de Noailles with Shellfish (oil on canvas, 25 × 21 ins/63 × 53 cm) FRF 300,000

London, 4 Feb 2002: L'enroulement du silence (1955, oil on canvas, 24 × 39 ins/60 × 100 cm) GBP 100,000

London, 20 March 2002: Black Cat. Pink Cat (1948, gouache, a pair, 11 × 9 ins/29 × 22 cm) GBP 9,500

Paris, 12 March 2003: Self-portrait (wax pastel, 22 × 21 ins/57 × 53 cm) EUR 6,500

Paris, 27 Nov 2003: Mutants (oil on canvas, 37 × 58 ins/95 × 147 cm) EUR 78,000

Trieste, 12 May 2004: Shadows (oil on canvas, 36 × 24 ins/92 × 60 cm) EUR 31,000

London, 22 June 2004: Margot Fonteyn and Friend (1948, oil on canvas, 22 × 18 ins/55 × 46 cm) GBP 50,000

Bibliography

  • Audiberti, Jacques: Léonor Fini, Paris, 1950.
  • de Pieyre de Mandiargues, André: Les Masques de Léonor Fini, A. Bonne, Paris, 1951.
  • Brion, Marcel: Léonor Fini et son œuvre, Éd. Jean-Jacques Pauvert, Paris, 1955.
  • Bataille, G.: Les Larmes d'Éros, Éd. Jean-Jacques Pauvert, Paris, 1961.
  • Brion, Marcel: L'Art fantastique, Albin Michel, Paris, 1961.
  • Passeron, René: Histoire de la peinture surréaliste, Le Livre de poche, Paris, 1968.
  • Jelenski, C.: Léonor Fini, Clairefontaine, Lausanne, 1968.
  • Gauthier, Xavière: Léonor Fini, Le Musée de Poche, Paris, 1979.
  • Chadwick, Whitney: Women Artists and the Surrealist Movement, Thames and Hudson, London, 1985.
  • Jelenski, C.: Léonor Fini, exhibition catalogue, musée d'Art Sogo, Yokohama, November-December 1985.
  • Léonor Fini, exhibition catalogue, Editions Michèle Trinckvel, Paris, 1986.
  • Godard, Jocelyne: Léonor Fini ou les Métamorphoses d'une œuvre, Le Sémaphore, Paris, 1996.
  • Spies, Werner (ed.): La Révolution surréaliste, exhibition catalogue, Éd. du Centre Georges-Pompidou, Paris, 2002.
  • Weibel, Peter (ed.): ‘Phantom der Lust. Visionen des Masochismus in der Kunst’ in 2 vol., exhibition catalogue, Neue Galerie am Landesmuseum, Graz, Belleville Verlag, Munich, 2003.