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Thursday, May 1, 2014

Leonor Fini

Leonora Fini Self-portrait
Self-portrait with Scorpion,
1938Leonor Fini
Few things in art fascinate me more than artists' self-portraits. In writing about artists, it's always frustrating to find those who have seldom or never painted themselves. In rare cases, even photos of the artist are hard to come by. On the other hand (or face), sometimes, in perusing artists' work one can be nearly overwhelmed with the surprising number of self-portraits. Of course, Rembrandt and van Gogh, are the first to come to mind, in this regard; but quite a few others rival them for sheer numbers. Of course, most of these rivals are men (male vanity?), but as female artists began to proliferate in the early 20th century, women also began to paint themselves quite frequently (with something other than makeup, that is). Of these, one of the most prolific (perhaps the most prolific) was the Argentine-born artist, Leonor Fini.

Self-portrait with Kot and Sergio, 1955, Leonor Fini
--one of her best works, suggesting a ménage a trois.
Self-portrait 1938, Leonor Fini

Leonor Fini was born in 1907 in Buenos Aires, though she grew up and lived most of her life in Europe (Trieste, Milan, and Paris). She was a very beautiful woman, a fact that seemingly was not lost on her or anyone she came in contact with. That list reads like a who's who of early 20th century European artists, including names such as Paul Éluard, Max Ernst, Georges Bataille, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Picasso, Jean Cocteau, Giorgio de Chirico, and Salvador Dalí. She was married once, but only briefly to Fedrico Veneziani, and judging by the major emphasis in her art content, she seems to have preferred women to men. However, Fini often traveled about Europe by car with two or more male friends. On one such jaunt in 1933, the famous photographer, Cartier-Bresson photographed her nude in a swimming pool with André Pieyre. The photo sold at auction not long ago for over $300,000 (a record for Cartier-Bresson). I wish I could show it here. Though not really obscene, it's a little too erotic for this venue. Her Self-portrait with Kot and Sergio (above) dating from 1955 would suggest she was possibly bisexual.
Visage en Rouge, Leonor Fini
Self-portrait, 1941, Leonor Fini

A self-portrait? Leonor Fini, June, 1947
Leonor died in 1996 at the age of eighty-nine. In surveying the sheer number of her authenticated self-portraits painted over her lifetime (more than a dozen), it quickly becomes apparent that she also drew and painted any number of images which have not actually been so labeled, but are, in fact, self-portraits. On top of that, quite a few of Fini's paintings feature faces that bear a striking resemblance to her own as in her Visage en Rouge (above, left). It would seem that whenever she was in need of a model, she simply looked in a mirror. Despite all the self-portraits, Leonor Fini was much more than an egotistical portrait artist. During the course of her lifetime she painted numerous others besides herself (mostly women), authored three novels, rendered watercolor magazine covers, (as evidenced by the Harper's Bazaar cover from 1947, right), and illustrated numerous literary classics. She also designed elaborate costumes for the theater, opera, and movies, while still finding time for her greatest love--Persian cats (as seen in her Seven Cates, bottom). At one time she had seventeen of them. They shared her bed as well as her table at dinner, wandering about, nibbling what they liked. If guests objected, they ceased being guests.

Seven Cats, Leonor Fini


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