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Leonor Fini was born on August 30, 1907, in Buenos Aires, to an Italian mother and an Argentine father. When her parents separated, Fini moved to Trieste in Italy with her mother. She was raised in a cultured, bourgeois household, where frequent visitors included James Joyce, Umberto Saba, and Italo Svevo. She started painting at an early age, and left home at 17 to travel through Europe. Fini never received formal artistic training, but studied under Achille Funi during a stay in Milan.
In 1933 Fini moved to Paris and met some of the Surrealists, among them Victor Brauner, Paul Eluard, and Max Ernst. She never joined to the Surrealist movement officially, but experimented with some of the movements methods and techniques in her own work. She was especially interested in automatism, in which the artist draws inspiration from the casual juxtaposition of shapes and the chance use of materials. Her paintings feature representations of ambiguous creatures set in sinister environments and strewn with enigmatic objects laden with psychoanalytical symbolism.
In 1936 she participated in the International Surrealist Exhibition at the New Burlington Galleries in London and in Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism at The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Her first solo exhibition took place at the Julien Levy Gallery, New York, in 1938; the introductory essay to the show’s catalogue was written by Giorgio de Chirico. During World War II, Fini lived in Monte Carlo and painted numerous portraits. From 1945 to 1969 she designed costumes for theater, opera, ballet, and cinema productions. She lived with numerous cats which, along with sphinxes, populate her paintings from the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. The artist lived and worked in France until her death in Paris on January 18, 1996.