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Free and creative

She was free, unique, exuberant, original, creative and prolific. The Italian painter Leonor Fini (1907-1996) who moved to Paris in 1930 and would spend the rest of her life there, had everything it takes to succeed. You only have to flick through the pages of her biography (1) to be convinced of that.

Leo Castelli

Her childhood friend from Trieste was Leo Castelli, the great dealer of American pop artists, who exhibited her fantastical furniture pieces in Paris in 1939.

With the Surrealists

In the 1930s she was part of the surrealist clique that included André Breton, Max Ernst and Paul Eluard.

Christian Dior as a gallerist

Her first French exhibition was staged in 1932 by Christian Dior at a time when the couturier was still a gallerist (1).


Henri Cartier-Bresson

That same year, her sublime body was immortalized in water in a picture that has now become famous, taken by one of the best known photographers of the 20th century, Henri Cartier-Bresson. One of her first great French loves was the talented writer André Pieyre de Mandiargues.

Exhibited at Moma in 1937

Her work was unveiled at Moma in New York in 1937 in an exhibition dedicated to Surrealism. She lived lavishly and was generous, to the extent that she even financially supported the legendary writer Jean Genet. Up until the point when he stole the portrait she made of him.

Working for Fellini

Leonor Fini illustrated numerous books, designed theatre sets and costumes, and made extensive society portraits too. In 1963 she even made certain costumes for Federico Fellini’s film, 8½. She loved masked balls, and she used to fashion precious masks as well as long, theatrical dresses that she also liked to wear into town.

Living with two men

She famously liked living with two men at once, one for friendship, one for sex, she used to say… Leonor Fini was an entire world in her own right, and her visual body of work is the reflection of this. Her meticulous and delicate output is reminiscent of Salvador Dali, in particular her society portraits from the post-war period, with a touch of the spirit of Belgian surrealist Paul Delvaux for her hieratical female depictions, and Victor Hugo for his dramatic drawings in black.

Arlette Souhami

And yet it’s only today that posterity is starting to catch up with Leonor Fini and her creation. It’s not yet too late to take an interest in her paintings and drawings, which are highly diverse in style. “She didn’t want to make the effort to promote her work. She didn’t want to travel abroad,” reveals her gallerist who knew her back in 1978, Arlette Souhami, to explain the obscurity to which she fell victim. A sprawling array of decorative prints in her latter years also tarnished her image. Up until today Arlette Souhami has been dedicated to promoting the work of her friend in collaboration with the Weinstein gallery from San Francisco.

From 7000 euros

Until 16 September the space that she runs in the 7th arrondissement in Paris, the Galerie Minsky, is exhibiting an ensemble of Fini’s works. Taken from all periods, they are on sale from 7000 euros for drawings and between 60,000 euros and 950,000 euros for paintings. In 2021 Arlette Souhami also published the catalogue raisonné of paintings by the artist (with 1600 works indexed). It’s an important tool for safeguarding in the market.

Kasmin gallery

In New York the influential Kasmin gallery staged an exhibition on her in January and February 2023 featuring a majority of drawings but also masks and dresses for prices ranging from 8000 to 350,000 dollars. “Her style is difficult to define,” explains the head of the Kasmin gallery, Nick Olney. “She is an uncategorizable figure. The 1940s are particularly highly sought-after but demand for the later periods is increasing. The good news is that single artworks are still available for around 10,000 euros. The exhibition was well received in New York. The city has a long tradition of appreciation for the surrealist movement.”

Museum of Sex

Fini’s artworks feature as part of permanent collections in major museums around the world, from the Centre Pompidou to Guggenheim in Venice, but she recently returned to the forefront of the scene through a series of exhibitions. In New York, contrary to expectations, the Museum of Sex made an impression with an exhibition dedicated to her in 2018.

Cecilia Alemani

The big turning point in her comeback involved the selection of Fini’s works for the 2022 Venice Biennale by the artistic director of the show, Cecilia Alemani (See here the interview of Cecilia Alemani), along with the presence over the same period of five of her paintings at the Guggenheim Museum in Venice as part of the exhibition “Surrealism and Magic: Enchanted Modernity”. In December 2023 the Minsky gallery will be staging a solo showcase of Leonor Fini’s work at Art Basel Miami Beach (See here the last report about Art Basel Miami Beach).

Centenary of Surrealism

Lastly, to mark the centenary of the creation of the surrealist movement in 2024, according to Arlette Souhami, Leonor Fini will be part of an anniversary exhibition at the Centre Pompidou, as well as an exhibition on the same theme at Milan’s Palazzo Reale.

Control of the market

Fini’s loyal and official gallerist explains not only that she is in control of an ensemble of works from the artist’s estate but also that she often buys them back at sales. “I’ve seen all the works from the catalogue raisonné pass through over and over,” she says. “We’ve been seeing over the past four years an annual price increase of 20% on average.”

Venomous scorpion

The record price at auction, 1.9 million euros, was obtained in 2021 for a self-portrait from 1938 which depicts the artist wearing a glove hiding a venomous scorpion. “The symbol of a dangerous woman,” comments Arlette Souhami. In 1938 she painted a pure surrealist composition, “Figures on a Terrace”, depicting three identical women in an architectural setting against a huge sky. They are surrounding a young man.

Im interested in myself

The painter stated frankly in a film from 1966: “I mostly paint women because I am interested in myself.” The canvas was auctioned in 2020 for 872,000 euros. In 1988 the same painting sold for the equivalent of 145,000 euros. On 27 June 2023 in London a self-portrait with turban dating from 1938-1941, which shows her with a worried expression and exuberant hairstyle in a very small format (18x14cm), was sold for 827,000 euros.

Revision of art history



More generally this enthusiasm for Leonor Fini follows a vast movement of rediscovery on an international scale of women with fascinating worlds linked to the surrealist movement and the Parisian avant-garde from the 1920s-40s who have been overlooked for too long, like Leonora Carrington, Dorothea Tanning and Marie Laurencin. This great new wave is only just beginning. The revision of art history is underway.




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