The Argentinian-Italian painter, sketcher, illustrator, stage designer, costume designer and writer Leonor Fini was born in Buenos Aires on August 30, 1908. When she was one year old, her mother fled with her away from her husband to her home in Triest. To protect her from the father’s attempts to kidnap her, Leonor Fini was dressed like a boy for the first years of her life. It is possible that this is the basis for her life-long predilection for masks and disguises. Because of her rebellious spirit, she was kicked out of school several times. As an artist, Fini was an autodidact.
She painted and drew from the time she was small. At only 17 years of age, she had her first solo exhibit in Triest. In the mid-1930’s, the artist went to Paris, and here she came into contact with the Surrealists. She became friends with Giorigio De Chirico (1888–1978), Paul Éluard (1895–1952), Salvador Dalí (1904–89), Max Ernst (1891–1976) and Man Ray (1890–1976). However, because she rejected André Breton’s (1896–1966) claim to leadership and his dogmatism, Leonor Fini never became a regular member of the group. The artist spent the war years in Rome and Milan. In 1945, she returned to Paris. Beginning in 1948, she was in a relationship with the Italian diplomat Stanislao Lepri (1905–80), and in 1951, the Polish writer Constantin Jelenski moved in with them.
Leonor Fini was fond of theatrical performances and of organizing fantasy-ceremonial costume parties and masked balls. In addition, she maintained an extraordinary cat cult. Fini presented herself as an eccentric personality who stylized her life into a total work of art. Her art was oriented on Italian mannerism, Fontainebleau’s school, Johann Heinrich Füssli (1741–1825), romanticism, the symbolists, Gustav Klimt (1862–1918), but also on contemporary artists and writers. Leonor Fini’s painting is scenic-figurative. For the most part, her work focuses on relationships between dramatic figures, usually laden with tension and oscillating between eroticism and intimidation, who seem to be dreaming or to be performing rituals as if sleepwalking in "clairvoyant hypnosis".
There are often series based on themes, for example from 1964 to 1967 the women in train compartments, in 1970-71 children’s games, from 1987 to 1990 "Passengers" with the faces of dreaming women, and in 1995 female sleepwalkers.
Up into the 1960’s, Leonor Fini was a sought-after portraitist. Among others, she portrayed Jean Genet (1910–86), Anna Magnani (1908–73), Jacques Audiberti (1899–1965), Alida Valli (1921–2006), and Suzanne Flon (1918–2005). She also illustrated numerous books and wrote fantasy-dreamlike texts herself whose figures portray her world of images. In addition, she created stage designs and costumes for around 50 theater plays.
Leonor Fini died in Paris on January 18, 1996.