Lot 124
  • 124

Leonor Fini

200,000 - 300,000 USD
425,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Leonor Fini
  • Portrait surréaliste d'Adriana (Portrait of Adriana Williams)
  • Signed Leonor Fini (lower right)
  • Oil on canvas


Adriana Eller Williams (acquired from the artist in 1958; a gift of the architect Luis Barragan)
Acquired from the above in 2013

Catalogue Note

Talented, flamboyant, and often controversial, Leonor Fini was a virtually self-taught artist whose provocative art and vivacious personality quickly garnered her a place at the heart of the Parisian art world. Having been raised in Northern Italy by her fiercely independent mother, Fini arrived in Paris in 1931, when she was just 24 years old. She found she had a natural affinity with the Surrealists, soon developing close ties with the leading writers and painters of the group—including Éluard, Dalí, Man Ray, and Ernst—and often exhibiting with them, although she objected to the overt misogyny of André Breton and never considered herself a Surrealist in the strictest sense. Painted in 1957-58, Portrait surréaliste d’Adriana is perhaps Leonor Fini’s most enigmatic and hauntingly beautiful portrait and undoubtedly testament to these artists’ enduring influence on her work. Fini’s characteristic rich, swirling golden background bears particular comparison with the grattage technique of Max Ernst and is present in many of the artist’s most iconic paintings, including La Toilette inutile of 1964 (fig. 2).

Fini was an extremely accomplished portraitist and often painted several different sitters simultaneously so that her studio was almost a revolving door for the beautiful and the brilliant. The present work took over half a year to complete as the sitter, Adriana Eller Williams, later recounted: “It was an extraordinary experience for me. I was 24 years old and to be around such a creative and extraordinary artist was overwhelming […] When I would go to her studio, friends would drop by or, after my session, someone else would be waiting to pose for his or her portrait. This how I met the writer Jean Genet, and the actresses Alida Valli, and Anna Magnani among others.” Fini favored female subjects and her long list of sitters includes some of the other most influential women of the mid-twentieth century, not least the ballerina Margot Fonteyn, artists Meret Oppenheim and Leonora Carrington, and socialites Francesca Ruspoli and Hélène Rochas—all of whom Fini knew well. Two rare exceptions to this rule were the Italian painter Stanislao Lepri and the Polish writer Constantin (Kot) Jelenski; both long-term lovers of the artist with whom she was living simultaneously, along with more than a dozen Persian cats, at the time she painted the present work.

In many of Fini’s most powerful works the female takes the form of a sphinx and the present work is all the more remarkable for the model’s striking feline features, steely gaze and porcelain skin; Adriana must have proved irresistible to the artist, for Fini asked her to pose for her the very first time they met. Their connection was intense and when Adriana introduced her boyfriend, the prize-winning Mexican architect, Luis Barragan, to the artist during one of her sittings, he too was smitten by Fini’s eccentric charms. Astounded by her paintings, he purchased the unfinished portrait as a gift to Adriana. “This changed the mood and depth of the painting. As we became friends, Fini probed my inner most feelings, thoughts and psyche. In those years, Fini would decide what surroundings suited her subjects—either in water or fire.”