Emilie Rodriguez/Nevada Sagebrush
Leonor Fini’s oil painting “La Leçon de Botanique” or “botany lesson” displayed at the John and Geraldine Lilley Museum of Art at UNR.

Tucked away in the Church of Fine Arts building at the University of Nevada, Reno, the work of artist Leonor Fini awaits, and watches as students, faculty and Reno community members stare.

With rough sketch work and contorted bodies, Fini’s work is triggering to initially look at. 

After taking a closer look and reading the small descriptions of the art pieces, a theme emerges that was way before it’s time. 

Leonor Fini was a prominent artist during the age of the Surrealists. Developing after World War 1, Surrealism was a cultural artistic movement that spread across Europe. Surrealism took dark themes and brought them to life visually to stimulate the unconscious mind. The avant-garde art movement “Dada” also heavily influenced Surrealists and their work. 

To Surrealists, women were inspirational, mystical and not easily understood. While men held women in the highest regard as muses, they never dreamed one woman would become the artist. Women as muses would be at the core of Fini’s work, and as her artistic passion grew, so did her opinions on feminism and men as a submissive figure. 

Fini was extremely unapologetic and arguably one of the most independent women in the 20th century. Even though her work was during the Surrealism period in the 1920s and 1930s, she opposed being labeled a “woman artist” or a Surrealist. She detested the movement’s leader, André Breton, because she felt he was misogynistic. Fini’s artwork is outspoken, colorful and full of women empowerment. 

Fini was born in Argentina in 1907. After a family rift, Fini’s mother relocated them both to Italy. Fini’s mother feared her husband would come find them, so she dressed Fini as a boy, which may have influenced Fini’s depiction of gender later on in her artwork. 

Fini relocated to Paris in 1931 where she immediately found herself surrounded by Surrealists. At first, Fini was a muse for many of the painters in Paris. However, she soon discovered she was no muse, and her art became a sensation with personality, drama and mystery. 

Fini was prolific and versatile in her art. Fini would use oil painting, silkscreen, lithograph, watercolor, drawing and rough sketches, as well as other unconventional materials.  According to a write up of Fini at the John and Geraldine Lilley Museum at UNR, Fini was a shaker and a mover. She used her art to criticize many artists and ideas in the art world. 

Fini was a force of nature, and could not be tied down to one idea, personality or lifestyle. She was constantly changing. Fini even hated relational constructs and chose to live with two men, one her best friend and one her lover. 

Because of her unique and risque lifestyle, Fini incorporated many of these themes into her art, disturbing many who looked upon her work. 

Fini questioned beauty, age, dark, light, sex and love. She was incredibly persistent in portraying men as submissive and women as dominant figures in her work. 

Fini also surrounded herself with cats, sphinxes, and witches as they inspired her and her ideal image of a woman. In her piece “Sphinx 10,” Fini created a cat-like woman with wild hair and an arched back. The wild hair of the creature has been speculated to mirror Fini’s personality.This color lithograph is one in a series of recurring sphinxes, but is seen to be a self-representation of Fini if she was a sphinx. 

Much more can be said about Fini, her work, and the exhibit itself. However, writing cannot capture the liveliness of Fini’s art, and the exhibit must be viewed before it closes later this spring. 

Fini’s life and her work continue to fascinate art lovers and collectors. The Lilley Museum currently has more than 30 pieces of Fini’s art on display. The exhibit “Leonor Fini / Not a Muse, An Artist” will be on display from Jan. 29 through May 15. More information about the artist and museum hours can be found on the UNR events website. 

Emilie Rodriguez can be reached at emilier@sagebrush.unr.edu or on Twitter @emilieemeree.