Masters Preview | Leonor Fini

The 2016 Masters Exhibit opens to the public tonight, December 2, at 6 PM with a First Friday reception. For the past month, we’ve utilized this blog to share the stories of our 6 featured masters. These artists’ lives and work influenced the course of art history in the 20th century, and we are honored to bring their original masterpieces to Columbia, Missouri for the month of December. All artwork on display for the Masters Exhibit is available for purchase, and we encourage those impacted by this significant work – whether new to collecting or regular patron – to inquire about private viewing and personalized tours of the exhibit.  Our final Masters Preview post is a look at the life and work of Surrealist painter Leonor Fini.

Leonor Fini
Sphinge Jaune

Leonor Fini was the only woman fully inducted into the original circle of Paris Surrealists, led by Andre Breton and including Dali, Max Ernst, and the writer André Pieyre de Mandiargues, among others. Fini’s work, like that of the other Surrealists, dealt in imagery of the subconscious rather than depicting the world as seen by the eye. It is interesting to consider, with Fini, the difference between what one sees and what one envisions. Her initial, surreal works came about after an eye infection that kept her bandaged – essentially blindfolded – for nearly a year in her young adulthood. Shortly after, she began to paint the waking dreams and visions she had experienced while without her sight. One significant, distinguishing characteristic of Fini’s Surrealism is the role of the female character, which, unexpectedly for her time, was unabashedly depicted as powerful, dominant, and even subjugating.

Fini was such an undisputed master of portraiture that her talent was sought out by elite figures all over Europe, even before she was 20 years old, and despite that she was a woman working in a field of men. Her portraits are meticulously rendered and often slightly alter her subjects to a softer, more feminine, even more feline visage. For Fini, the powerful, regal quality of a portrait need not be equated with masculinity, and indeed one of the intriguing qualities of her work is the confident melding of the feminine and the powerful.

Fini’s fame through the 1930s, 40s and 50s regarded her public persona as much as her painting. She dressed theatrically, appeared at every party of note in Paris, and generally failed to fit the mold of the proper, polite woman. She openly shirked the prescription of marriage, and engaged multiple, very public affairs before settling – if it can be called such – with her two favorite lovers in a Paris apartment in 1946, where she lived and worked for the subsequent 5 decades.

Fini’s individualism and disregard for societal norms allowed extreme productivity throughout a decades-long artistic career, well beyond the lifespan of the formal movement of Surrealism. She manipulated and distorted her subject matter to convey her attitudes about power, sex, relationship, and the political world at large, yielding a vast portfolio rich in dreamlike scenarios and re-imaginations of social roles.

Portrait of Mademoiselle Pichon
Leonor Fini
Portrait of Mademoiselle Pichon
Oil on wood


“Leonor Fini,” Weinstein Gallery, 2016. Accessed November 29, 2016.

Peter Webb, Sphinx: The life and art of Leonor Fini (New York: Vendome, 2009).

“Biography,” Leonor Fini, 2016. Accessed November 29, 2016.