Leonor Fini (1907-1996, Argentine) was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina and raised in Trieste, Italy. At age 17 she moved to Paris where she became acquainted with many artists such as Max Ernst, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Picasso, and Salvador Dalí all of whom valued the cat’s presence in art. Essentially a self-taught artist, after studying the Old Masters and learning anatomy from studying cadavers, Fini was invited to exhibit in New York at MOMA in 1936. Not just interested in painting, Fini produced many graphic designs and illustrations. She also designed costumes for theatre, opera, ballet, and film and even created a bottle for Schiaparelli’s perfume Shocking.
Influenced by Jung and Freud, Fini’s works reflect an interest in dreams, the unconscious, and the psychic metamorphosis of woman and cat/sphinx. However, because of her fierce independence, she refused to label herself as a Surrealist even though she exhibited alongside those involved in the Surrealist movement.
Both sphinxes and cats dominate many of her paintings. Her works celebrate beautiful independent women often posing with cats, or metamorphosing into them. By so doing, Fini taps into the ancient bond between cat and woman and the notion of woman as cat, the idea of transfiguration rooted in the cat goddess Bast’s relationship with the Greek goddess Hecate. Fini’s paintings focus on the complex relationship between the sexes with the female’s domination of a passive and often androgynous lithe male.
Not only did Fini paint cats, but she also kept as many as 23,mostly Persians, as her pets. Sheis quoted as saying, “I’ve always preferred to live in a sort of community – A big house with my atelier and cats and friends…” Like any cat lover, she let her cats sleep with her and share her meals. Her guests never dared complain when she generously allowed them to walk over the dining room table in search of tasty tidbits. A friend recalled, “…the cats would come all around her; on the easel, on the bed, on the palate” whenever she painted. Some of her works were even identified by the stray cat hairs attached to the paint or the odd cat scratched canvas. Whenever she traveled to the Loire Valley for the summer, her cats accompanied her in their own car. A good friend of Brigitte Bardot, Fini was active in the French SPA and contributed some of her works to draw attention to the plight of strays. Fini owned over 50 cats during her lifetime and became distraught whenever one would get sick and never got used to losing one. She is known to have said, “In every way cats are the most perfect creatures on the face of the earth, except that their lives are too short.” (figures)
Fini died in Paris in 1996; her career had spanned six decades.