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Sphinx: The Life and Art of Leonor Fini Hardcover – 9 Nov 2009
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Top Customer Reviews
Fini's work is somehow the perfect antidote to some of the obvious misogynistic traits that can be found amongst members of the Surrealist movement and Peter Webb's portrayal of her steadfast independence of spirit and artistic technique make this woman's life an indispensable addition to understanding a highly exciting era of art and its various movements. I have to admit to developing a bit of a crush on her and would probably have been one of the gaggle of gushing admirers who flocked to her New York appearances had I been around at that time. Beautiful for sure, but also as frustratingly alluring as her painted canvases ― ‘sphinx’ is the entirely correct description for Leonor Fini’s effect on both men and women.
Fini's life and achievements span an incredibly tumultuous period in European history and Webb's narrative does well in bringing to life the events that forged Fini’s formation as an artist. It helps immensely that Webb enjoyed a personal connection to Fini in her later life and he must be commended for maintaining an objective appraisal of her art while injecting obvious personal insights into this complex woman’s personality. On the strength of Webb’s writing, I went out and bought his biography on Hans Bellmer, even though Bellmer is my least favourite Surrealist.Read more ›
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In the `fame game' Fini's first disadvantage was that she was a woman and second, and possibly more important, a woman not affiliated with a man who was more famous. This combined with a persona of immense power and beauty that did not suffer critics or even give a damn what they thought, kept her out of the mainstream focus of those who Tom Wolfe termed "The Art Worldlings."
In a period where academics still guard their predilection to put everyone and everything into a box, Fini's wide range of artistic interests, styles and abilities and the impossibility of categorization, have further isolated her. As perhaps, the best known 'unknown' artist of the 20th Century, "Sphinx," in English, is a long-overdue biography that sheds light on its subject.
Because Fini and her art are almost impossible to separate, the book doubles as both a straight biography and as a monograph of the artist's work. As such, it is comprehensive, but by nature, only a scratch on the surface of her whole story. The multitude of photographs of both Leonor and her work present an interesting picture of Fini showing her influences and position in the worlds of celebrity and art.
Many obscure photos from her personal archives add to the understanding of who she was. The paintings, costume designs, book illustrations and the commercial projects depicted demonstrate the scope of her talent. The photos of her costumed and interacting with a myriad of international figures further demonstrate the renaissance qualities she exemplified!
The chronology of her life and many of the high points are there (including a very detailed bibliography). There is also an index of names which is not present in the earlier French language edition.
A true enigma; grasping Leonor's being is not an easy task. Peter Webb has, within his academic approach, captured the facts and many of the complexities of her life, but to this reader there is a noticeable lack of Leonor's interaction with, and the importance of, her cats. In my opinion, this is a very serious oversight as the cats were integral to her well-being and productivity heavily impacting on both her day-to-day activities and her work.
The last twenty or so years of her life are somewhat quickly disposed of, and one hopes that these years will at some point be given the same importance and attention as the earlier periods.
All this being said, it is, with great joy that a book now exists that begins to place Fini into her proper place in the history of 20th Century art.
It is a sumptuous feast for both the Fini cognoscenti and the neophyte.
Her subject matter included mythological creature and nearly always represented the feminist view of the world - woman is the goddess while all else is subordinate. Though she is often compared to the Bloomsbury artist Dora Carrington, Anne Bachelier and American artist Dorothea Tanning her painting vocabulary remained her own. Her subjects were women portrayed by goddesses, warriors, and voluptuaries. She reduced the masculine position to insignificance, yet remained one of the more beautifully dressed and exotic appearing women of her time. She not only continued to 'perform ' as an artist of special note (!), but she also painted prolifically, designed sets and costumes for theater, opera, and ballet and was known for her magnificent book illustrations. In keeping with her philosophy of non-conformism she changed her styles at will, but up until her death in 1996 she was still labeled a female surrealist.
Author Peter Webb knew Fini personally and his writing in this amazingly fascinating book is rich in detail about the life of Fini. Less is written about the individual paintings or the philosophy of her art, but there are copious examples in rich color of her paintings and drawing as well as countless photographs of the startling Leonor Fini so embraced by the city of Paris. This is a very fine biography of a fascinating artist and woman, a book that will be the gold standard for information about an artist who for many people today remains an unknown. Grady Harp, August 10