C’est Fini

Leonor

Leonor Fini by André Ostier

While I have yet to read it cover to cover, filmmaker Curtis Harrington‘s posthumously published autobiography Nice Guys Don’t Work in Hollywood has yielded wonders at whatever point I’ve opened it. Harrington had an uncommonly interesting circle of friends; there he is, for instance, on the set of James Broughton’s The Pleasure Garden. And just now I discovered that Harrington was once assistant to Surrealist eminence Edward James, even lodging with him for a spell in Los Angeles. His tribute to artist Marjorie Cameron, The Wormwood Star, was conceived while living with James and (the text is ambiguous) may have been filmed in their shared abode.

Harrington’s mooted project with another artist, the magnificent Leonor Fini (born on this day in 1907), never came to be, but in mid-century Paris he at least got to meet this most orchidaceous of apparitions. Read his description of their encounter and marvel at the sheer mad wonder of it all:

The door to Fini’s apartment was answered by a slim young man. He guided me through a small entrance hall where three enormous angora cats crouched together on a table and stared at me. Leonor, in an elaborate black velvet dressing gown, rose to greet me from a mauve sofa. She gazed at me in the same intense way as her cats. I asked her what films she admired and she replied by naming two of my favorites, Carl Dreyer’s Vampyr and Robert Bresson’s Le journal d’un curé de campagne (Diary of a Country Priest).

She brought out an enormous album of photos taken of her and her friends at her summer residence in Italy where they lived in an abandoned tower that belonged to no one. The photos showed them dressed in a series of fantastic costumes and wigs. They lived the surreal life of the imagination in their crumbling tower by the sea. How I longed to go there and make a film out of such elements. Leonor invited me to come and do just that in another year.

Before I left, Leonor invited me to a very special party in honor of fellow surrealist painter, and her longtime lover, Stanislao Lepri. She said, “We will eat exotic food, drink uncommon wines, and everyone will wear extraordinary costumes. We feel you like the same things we do, strange and fantastic things, and we would like you to be there.” She told me that if she had met me that summer in Grasse, she would have invited me to be one of a group of beautiful young men who were in her entourage, her “Dark Angels”, at the legendary masked ball given by the flamboyant designer Carlos de Beistegui. This missed opportunity was one I deeply regretted.

 Harrington book

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9 comments

  1. I’m ecstatic. Never heard of Leonor Fini before. At your intro I just read more about her and looked at some of her work. Magnificent indeed. What a woman! She bestows like a goddess, with a hidden power, and moves in her works with the elegance, grace and exoticism of a cat herself.

  2. gregory pearson

    Andre Ostier was a very good friend of mine and Edouard Roditi’s. He did a couple of great pictures of Natalie Barney in the summer of 1970, shortly before Debre ousted her from 20 rue Jacob. I would see Mme. Fini and Kot Jelinski (more often him) at art openings. She was an incredible show by herself.

    • Thank you for your fascinating recollections and their heady Parnassian perfume!

    • Gregory now that my Brooks book is debuting on October 3 in book stores I would love to see iOstier’s mages if you have any of Barney??? Also will invite you and James to the blog book party celebration once I get the invites together. Romaine would have loved a dance party so she shall have one plus gifts for all her admirers

  3. gregory pearson

    And also Lepri, who had a great show in Paris in 75. Another mutual friend was Paul Laurens who wrote a fine bio of Renee Vivien. Those folk: Fini and her entourage, were amazing esthetes.

  4. James Just saw the Surrealist’s exhibit/sale at Sotheby’s in NYC with Gloria Orenstein who was a groundbreaker in writing about these women and I goo friend of Leonor. One incredibly stupid comment by a male collector being led around by the wallet–“Oh, I thought there would be more bargains”. When women artists are seen as equal or better than males and no one looks for bargain basement prices on their work-we will have reached some kind of parity. The pictures many of Leonor’s were hung on dark walls with dramatic spot lights. Over a 100 women artists of Surrealism. A joy to see collected in one smart exhibit. I hope the prices are record breaking. Thanks for posting this.

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