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Published on May 7, 2012
Leonor Fini (August 30, 1908, Buenos Aires—January 18, 1996, Paris) was an Argentine surrealist painter.
She was born in Buenos Aires to an Italian mother and an Argentinian father. Her mother left her father before Leonor's first birthday. She took the child to her home in Trieste, Italy, where LF was disguised as a boy whenever she left her house for the next five years in order to foil kidnap attempts by her father.
After leaving Trieste at the age of 17 to paint a family's portraits in Milano (where she had her first painting exhibition) she relocated to Paris in either 1931 or 1932. There, she became acquainted with, among many others,Paul Eluard, Max Ernst, Georges Bataille, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Picasso,André Pieyre de Mandiargues, and Salvador Dalí. She traveled around Europe by car with de Mandiargues and Cartier-Bresson where she was photographed nude in a swimming pool by Cartier-Bresson. His photograph of Leonor sold in 2007 for $305,000 - the highest price paid at auction for one of his works to that date.
She painted portraits of Jean Genet, Anna Magnani, Jacques Audiberti, Alida Valli, Schlumberger and Suzanne Flon as well as many other celebrities and wealthy visitors to Paris. While working for Elsa Schiaparelli she designed the flacon for the perfume, "Shocking," which became the top selling perfume for the House of Schiaparelli. She designed costumes and decorations for theater, ballet and opera, including the first ballet performed by Roland Petit's Ballet de Paris, "Les Demoiselles de la nuit," featuring a young Margot Fonteyn. This was a payment of gratitude for Fini's having been instrumental in finding the funding for the new ballet company. She also designed the costumes for two films, Renato Castellani's Romeo and Juliet (1954) and John Huston's A Walk with Love and Death (1968), which starred 18 year old Anjelica Huston and Moshe Dayan's son, Assaf.
She once said, "A woman should live with two men; one more a lover and the other more a friend." She then proceeded to do so. Stanislao Lepri, an Italian diplomat when she met him, left the diplomatic corp to live with her and painted. Approximately five years later Constantin Jelenski, a Polish writer joined them.
In the 1970s, she wrote three novels, Rogomelec, Moumour, Contes pour enfants velu and Oneiropompe. Her friends included Jean Cocteau, Giorgio de Chirico, and Alberto Moravia, Fabrizio Clerci and most of the other artists and writers inhabiting or visiting Paris. She illustrated many works by the great authors and poets, including Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Baudelaire and Shakespeare, as well as texts by new writers. She was very generous with her illustrations and donated many drawings to writers to help them get published. She is, perhaps, best known for her graphic illustrations for Histoire d'O.
It has been said about her that she is the only artist to paint women without apology. Many of her paintings feature strong, beautiful women (many times resembling herself) in ceremonial or provocative situations. Men are often portrayed as lithe figures who are under the protection of her females. The sphinx and cats play major parts in her paintings, as does the theme of 'the double.' She was equally adept at etching, drawing, watercolor and oil painting. She lived with many cats; up to a total of 23 at one time. The illness of one of her cats could send her into a deep depression.
A biographical song about Leonor Fini's life is featured on Welsh artist Katell Keineg's 1997 second album, Jet. [from Wikipedia]