glbtq: an encyclopedia of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender & queer culture
social sciences
special features
about glbtq


   member name
   Forgot Your Password?  
Not a Member Yet?  

  Advertising Opportunities
  Permissions & Licensing
  Terms of Service
  Privacy Policy






Alpha Index:  A-B  C-F  G-K  L-Q  R-S  T-Z

Subjects:  A-B  C-E  F-L  M-Z

Fini, Léonor (1908-1996)  

The work of bisexual artist Léonor Fini resists classification. Although often associated with Surrealism, it is highly personal. It presents a mysterious and evocative world dominated by women.

Born in Buenos Aires in 1908 to parents of Italian, Spanish, and Argentinean descent, Léonor Fini was was reared in Trieste, Italy. A largely self-taught artist, as a teenager she studied Renaissance and Mannerist painting in European museums and anatomy at the Trieste morgue.

In her visits to the morgue at the age of thirteen or so, she became intensely interested in the phenomena of life and death, decay and regeneration that were to influence her art profoundly. In her paintings, images of skulls and bones mark the tension between the transitory and the eternal.

Fini's independence and reliance on personal instinct link her with other women artists associated with Surrealism, including her close friend Leonora Carrington and Frida Kahlo.

In her life and art Fini advanced an ideal of the "autonomous, absolute woman," who was beautiful, domineering and "governed by passion." Although she had numerous suitors, she refused to marry. She preferred to live communally, often with two men, and demanded a sexual freedom that included bisexuality.

But she made a clear distinction between choosing a lesbian lifestyle and the desire to experience the love of another woman. In an interview with Whitney Chadwick in 1982, Fini freely acknowledged her experience of same-sex love, but refused to accept a lesbian identity, remarking, "I am a woman and have had the 'feminine experience' but I am not a lesbian."

Fini's strong commitment to sexuality as the connection between internal and external realities aligned her with Surrealists such as Salvador Dalí, André Masson, and Hans Bellmer. In 1936, she exhibited with the Surrealists in Paris and was subsequently associated with them.

Fini shared some of the Surrealists' ideas and a similar interest in shocking behavior and dramatic gestures. For example, when several Surrealists first saw her paintings and asked to meet her in a café, she arrived dressed in a Cardinal's red robes and explained that she liked the sacrilege of a woman wearing clothes of a man who would never know a woman's body.

However, her association with these male artists was largely social rather than substantive. She was hostile toward André Breton's puritanism and the Surrealists' failure to respect the autonomy of women while they "pretended" to liberate men. Moreover, as Chadwick points out, Fini is distinguished from them by her refusal to subjugate her female images to male desire.

Fini's work may in fact be seen as a response to the patriarchal assumptions of Surrealism. Fini places herself, or other women, at the center of her paintings as images of female power and autonomy. Her works touch on issues of matriarchy, lesbianism, and . She typically combines carefully rendered reality and an invented theatrical space dominated by fantasy.

Fini frequently includes in her paintings her personal totem, the cat; and she often depicts women who have magical--often sexual--powers. However, her figures are not necessarily intended to be read as abstract principles of dominant women and submissive men, since she based the paintings on images of specific individuals in her life.

Fini's first solo exhibition was at the Julian Levy Gallery in New York in 1939. During World War II, she lived in Monte Carlo and Rome and continued to work as an illustrator, theater designer, and painter, achieving a considerable reputation in Europe. She died in Paris in 1996.

Elizabeth Ashburn


zoom in
Léonor Fini in 1936.
Contact Us
Join the Discussion
Related Entries
More Entries by this contributor
A Bibliography on this Topic

Citation Information
More Entries about The Arts
Popular Topics:

Social Sciences

Stonewall Riots
Stonewall Riots

Gay Liberation Front

The Sexual Revolution, 1960-1980
The Sexual Revolution, 1960-1980

Leather Culture

Anthony, Susan B.
Anthony, Susan B.

Africa: Sub-Saharan, Pre-Independence



Computers, the Internet, and New Media



   Related Entries
arts >> Overview:  Erotic and Pornographic Art: Lesbian

Considering the unique set of problems facing lesbians who want to produce erotic art for the enjoyment of other lesbians, it is remarkable that so much lesbian erotica has been produced in so brief a time.

arts >> Overview:  European Art: Twentieth Century

A large number of significant twentieth-century European artists focused on gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender themes, making such concerns crucial to the understanding of twentieth-century European art.

arts >> Overview:  Latin American Art

Gay and lesbian Latin American artists frequently use their art to portray their desire for sexual and political liberation, often combining traditional subject matter with personal symbols and insights to stress their longing for acceptance.

arts >> Overview:  Set and Costume Design

Set and costume design for stage and film are fields that have attracted a large number of talented gay men and lesbians.

arts >> Overview:  Subjects of the Visual Arts: Nude Females

While nude depictions of women appear in most cultures, on both sides of the equator, and in rich variety, lesbian artists have been particularly resourceful in their use of the female nude.

arts >> Overview:  Surrealism

An artistic movement that grew out of Dadaism and flourished in Europe shortly after World War I, Surrealism embraced the idea that art was an expression of the subconscious.

arts >> Kahlo, Frida

Bisexual Mexican artist Frida Kahlo was a masterful exponent of cross-dressing, deliberately using male drag to project power and independence.

literature >> Roditi, Edouard

Poet, translator, literary and art critic, and short story writer, Edouard Roditi was associated with most of the twentieth-century's avant-garde literary movements from Surrealism to post-modernism.


Chadwick, Whitney. Women Artists and the Surrealist Movement. Boston: Little, Brown, 1972.

Jelenski, Constantin. Léonor Fini. Lausanne: Clairefontaine, 1968.

Léonor Fini. Exhibition Catalogue, with an essay by Luigi Carluccio. Turin: Galatea-Galleria d'Arte Contemporanea, 1966.

Léonor Fini. Exhibition Catalogue, with an introduction by Léonor Fini. Ferrara: Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna, 1983.


    Citation Information
    Author: Ashburn, Elizabeth  
    Entry Title: Fini, Léonor  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated February 7, 2004  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, glbtq, Inc.  


This Entry Copyright © 2002, glbtq, Inc. is produced by glbtq, Inc., 1130 West Adams Street, Chicago, IL   60607 glbtq™ and its logo are trademarks of glbtq, Inc.
This site and its contents Copyright © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.
Your use of this site indicates that you accept its Terms of Service.