‘I liked the sacrilegious nature of dressing as a priest, and the experience of being a woman and wearing the clothes of a man who would never know a woman’s body.’ –Leonor Fini
Leonor Fini was one of the more international figures of the Surrealist Movement. Her artworks portrayed a woman’s take on surrealism, which in large dealt with male fantasies.
In Fini’s early teens she suffered an eye disease that forced her to wear bandages on both eyes. By living in a world of darkness, her creativity was defined and her inner vision developed. This childhood experience defined Fini. She turned the negative situation into a beneficial endeavor and after her recovery; she decided to become an artist.
Fini pursued art with passion. Her talent grew rapidly and at the tender age of seventeen, her work was debuted at an exhibit in a Trieste gallery. Word of her talent reached Milan, a major Italian art center during the mid-1920s. The city’s upper class admired Fini’s work and commissioned portraits by the young entrepreneur, which opened her eyes to the European overabundance of the Avant-Garde Movement that it caused her to evolve in originality, and form her own convictions regarding her talent.
Fini makes no apology for her creations. Her paintings feature strong, beautiful women, often times resembling herself, in ceremonial or offensive positions. Her women are beautiful and alluring, yet powerful and threatening, exemplifying not only female sexuality but that which had been thought of as exclusively male.
The men are often portrayed as agile beings under female protection. She belittles the masculine position to the point that she sees it as insignificant. While most female surrealists’ art only contains statements about a woman’s sexuality, Fini’s bold approach celebrates the rights of a woman’s sexuality. Desire and power was an equal right for women and she was not submitted to the idea of it being a man’s world like her surrealist sisters.
Fini did not appreciate the politics behind the Surrealist Movement. She found the group homophobic and prejudiced despite its longing to idealize women and liberate sexual desire without interfering with the morals of the group. Founder of Surrealism, André Breton, was said to have “detested male homosexuality to the point where he once threatened to expel a member of the surrealist movement if he didn’t get married. But on the other hand, voyeurism and lesbianism disturbed him not at all” according to John B. Myers, a gallery dealer who documented his experiences with surrealists. Therefore, she rejected André Breton’s claim to leadership and his inflexibility.
Some may have considered Fini as a walking contradiction. Although she rejected the Surrealist Movement, she still observed many of their beliefs. Fini fashioned images from her subconscious allowing her to create women the way she saw them, and not conforming to a stereotypical estheticism. In short, she was a surrealist in her heart, but not on paper.
The Surrealist never found fault with Fini’s decision with not being a part of the movement, they often sought allies with non-members, but it’s been said that she was perhaps the only outsider who consistently stayed in close contact with the organization.