No female artist operating in mid-20th century Paris did so with as much verve as Leonor Fini (1907-96). A painter, stage designer and self-styled dandy, Fini achieved fame and celebrity by translating her dreams into paintings that combined elements of German Romanticism, Pre-Raphaelite painting, Venetian Mannerism and New Objectivity. Her camped-up fusion of these styles, rendered in smooth, flat paint, and with faces radiating an almost Frau Angelico glow, depicted scenes of sex, fantasy and transgression infused with mythological overtones.
headdress made up of plants, strings of pearls and bursts of tulle with a fox skull as the centerpiece. At her home – which at one point included 23 cats — she created an environment to match. “The rich crimson rags which hung about the room concealed a battery of colored lights, as on a miniature stage, and these were operated by imperceptible threads strung through the draperies as if they were cobwebs,” wrote Levy. “The disorder of the room was monumental.”
(1975). In this, two women sit opposite one another, their heads sheathed in bright orange headscarves. Fini uses the train’s chartreuse seatbacks to form halos around the heads, injecting a note of religious austerity into sex scene about to happen. (One thinks of Piero della Francesca.) La lecon de botanique (Botany Lesson, 1975), shows another pair of women, one nude, the other dressed like Futurist stripper. They’re looking at a plant whose parts mirror the female sexual apparatus as Georgia O’Keefe might have painted it. With one hand gesturing to the stamen and pistil and the other to her partner’s private parts, the nude on the left, could be offering an almost credible lesson in universality of reproductive forms had the bodies not been so lavishly eroticized and accessorized.
vent. Two walls of drawings, all solitary self-portraits (as opposed to the group scenes described above), attest to her powers, as do several major oil paintings. Among the latter, the strongest is Femme en armure I (1938), a pensive, melancholy picture that shows the artist wearing a piece of low-cut body armor that reveals far more than it protects. It’s cinched at the waist and cut high at the bottom to reveal a fine pair of legs in striped stockings. She wears a headdress that looks as if it were made of writhing snakes. Fini appeared in it repeatedly, both in paintings and photos, looking, alternately, like Medusa or a Wiccan goddess. It shows how, at her best, Fini could overlay an otherworldly aura onto an almost Flemish sense of realism, projecting herself as a force of nature.