Born in Buenos Aires Fini was brought up in Trieste, in Italy. Uninterested in the school curriculum, she determined to become an artist by immersing herself in books, in museums and learning about anatomy in the Morgue. Completely self-taught, she honed and refined her technical skills and creativity throughout her life.
She first moved to Milan then went to Paris, where she was to live most of her life. Her beauty, outgoing personality and immense capacity for friendship brought her very close to many artists and Max Ernst introduced her to the Surrealist group presided over with an iron fist by André Breton, who was suitably impressed by her automatic drawings and proclaimed her a Surrealist muse. To his surprise, she snubbed this approach, considering her talent to be as good as that of any man: she felt an affinity with the work of many of the Surrealists, and exhibited regularly with them without ever formally joining their group.
She painted many images inspired by dreams and nightmares, experimented with abstraction and almost hyperrealistic naturalism, delved into design, producing the iconic scent bottle for Elsa Schiaparelli’s ‘Shocking’ based on Mae West’s pneumatic shape, a chair based on a corset and a winged wardrobe which was recently exhibited at the Victoria & Albert Museum’s ‘Surrealist Things’.
During the War Fini developed her style to encompass the nude male figure as well as the stylized elegance of her dominant female figures. She produced drawings of the dresses of the ‘Grands Couturiers’ for the leading fashion magazines as well as many illustrated books in very small editions often illustrated with original lithographs and etchings, which enabled her to indulge in complex erotic compositions.
She designed sets, costumes and posters for the Opera in Paris and Milan, Ballet (Roland Petit’s first, Young Ladies of the Night with Margot Fonteyn), and Movies (Renato Castellani’s Romeo and Juliet, 1954, Federico Fellini’s 8 ½, 1963, and John Huston’s A Walk With Love and Death, 1968) and wrote three novels. She was photographed in exotic outfits and locations almost obsessively by Henri Cartier-Bresson, but also by Man Ray, Charles Henri Ford, Dora Maar, Erwin Blumenfeld, George Platt Lynes, Lee Miller, Horst P. Horst and many others.