Women Writers You Should Know About #17 Leonor Fini

Women Writers You Should Know About #17 Leonor Fini



I always imagined I would have a life very different from the one that was imagined for me, but I understood from a very early time that I would have to revolt in order to make that life. Now I am convinced that in any creativity there exists this element of revolt ~ Leonor Fini

‘Italian fury, scandalous elegance, caprice and passion.’ Max Ernst’s description of his one-time lover, Argentinian-born writer and artist, Leonor Fini was a tribute not only to her heritage but to her lust for life, her fiery, rebellious nature and her overt sexuality.


Born in Buenos Aires in 1907, she was raised in Trieste, Italy, moving to Milan as a teen.  From there she moved to Paris and soon became acquainted with other artists such as Ernst, Picasso and Dali.  Self-trained as an artist, the free-spirited Fini fascinated some of the elite of the art world; she was photographed nude by Henri Cartier-Bresson (the photograph was sold for $305,000 in 2007 – the highest price paid for a photography by Bresson at that time) and a play, ‘The Dream of Leonor’ was written in her honour by Benjamin Britton (playwright not composer).

Leonor Fini by Henri Cartier-Bresson
Leonor Fini by Henri Cartier-Bresson

Fini’s art, considered as surrealism by everyone except the artist herself, was feted for its depictions of powerful women in sometimes morbid scenarios.  Her designs included theatre, ballet and film costumes, as well as perfume bottles for designer Elsa Schiaparelli and portraits of people such as Anna Magnani, Suzanna Flon and Jean Genet.

Portrait of Leonor Fini
Portrait of Leonor Fini

Later in life, she wrote four novels, Rogomelec, Moumour, Contes pour enfants valu and Oneiropompe.  She illustrated many works by, amongst others, Shakespeare, Poe and Baudelaire and was best known for illustrations for Pauline Réage’s The Story of O, in which she herself had inspired ‘The Owl’ section after Réage had seen photographs of Fini wearing one of her famous Owl FiniOwl2smmasks.  Fini’s wild, untamed manner, her unusual beauty and her work are all celebrations of female sexuality yet never excluded men; indeed, she was the first female artist to paint an erotic male nude in 1942.

As with all powerful women, she received her fair share of misogyny:  Andre Breton, the founder of the Surrealist movement to which her art was subscribed, was a ferocious sexist who believed women could not hold a central position in art ,and even her friend, Dali, once noted that she was ‘better than most perhaps. But talent is in the balls.’


A spectacular exhibitionist, Leonor Fini is now considered one of the most important female artists of the 20th Century.  She died in Paris in 1996, at the age of 87.


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