Eros Renzetti

I discovered Leonor Fini’s face, or rather her eyes, as I told Laura Gavioli,1 by chance, while leafing through a magazine, as a child, in which she was with her friend Brigitte Bardot. Imet hermuch later, in the early 1980s, and I was a friend of hers until she passed away. We were bound by our great affection, something that was rare for her, given her altruistic but aloof personality, and the fact that she wasn’t always inclined to sentimentalism – unless of course she was dealing with a creature with a long tail, sharp claws, wide pupils, very fine fur and an undercoat.
I remember one day inParis in 1986, one of the first times Imet herwith Fabrizio Clerici – her “Re Luna”, as she called him at the time – a quiet day at the apartment in rue de la Vrillière, a curious sort of peace if you consider the two people who were there, who, it was obvious, radiated anything but calmand tranquillity. Itwas the early afternoon, with the sun filtering in through the large window in the studio on the top floor, in absolute silence. She was finishing a large vertical canvas that she’d been working on formonths, hewas using long bamboo shootswe’d picked in Saint-Dyé-sur-Loire to draw. In the meantime I went back and forth from her easel, standing behind her, and the vision of a monumental deluxe edition with her lithographs. Suddenly, just aswe had stepped back to check the effect of a brushstroke, a fur rocket shot around the studio throwing us into a panic.

"wide pupils,very fine fur and an undercoat."

Leonor Fini in the 60s

Madame sat down, half-fainted, but not before shoving me with her shoulder meaning that I should chase after the animal that had gone beserk. Itwas one of themany cats thatwere usually sleepily hanging around her and followed her everywhere, but this time the catwas roaming about as if in some crazy trance. Itwas roaming about and complaining, or rather, itwasmaking strange guttural sounds that suggested the worst was yet to come. Despite my fear of cats I rushed to catch it and give it back to its owner,wearing huge taffeta sleeves,who grabbedit andimmediately triedto calmit down.Fabrizio, who had watched everything that was going on almost impassively, couldn’t help expressing his opinion, as he picked up a feather: “It must have eaten a pigeon!” To which she replied with annoyance: “Ne dis pas lamerde, nous ne sommes pas à Venise!”.
I went with her to the vet’s. As soon as we got there we hastily entered the clinic, where the doctor told us just what we had suspected, that the cause was a small feather the cat had choked on. In thewaiting roomLeonormet a woman with long blonde hair and spoke with her in French and Italian. Then the doctor gave me the small animal wearing an Elizabethan collar, and her a list of all the things that needed to be done.On theway outLeonor waved at her friend and introduced me, saying: “He’s a young artist, my Italian friend!” The woman looked at me, tugged at the leash on her pug –whichwould later becomemy favourite breed of dog – and in Italian breathily uttered the words “I love Italy!” When we got back home, to her “Re Luna” – who in themeantime had discovered that the cat hadn’t torn apart a pigeon but his friend’s feathermask – Leonor said: “Wemet Dalida!”.

Visage, 1977
Ink on paper, 15.2 x 15.8 cm
Signed: bottom right Leonor Fini
Handwritten inscriptions on the obverse: per Giancarlo Renzetti
on the reverse: another autograph pencil drawing
Eros Renzetti collection, Rome
Donated by the artist to Renzetti in 1982

Leonor Fini, evenwhen it came to friendship, was, strange to say, the least “fake” person you could evermeet: she answeredthe phone herself, andI don’t think she ever owned an answering machine. Only at the very end did she actually buy a fax. I made two portraits of her in 1983 and more or less in the same period a triple portraitwhere I also painted myself and her friend Fabrizio, in a “wholly romantic complicity” he said when he saw it at the time. Since she thought ofme as a living Saint Sebastian, one day she gaveme a postcard of the martyr, which had been sent to her by Paul Éluard. On another occasion Iwas the one to give her a curious drawing of Fabrizio, telling her over the phone that it was the portrait of a man. She guessed it might be Stanislao Lepri. Instead, when she saw the drawing she wrote to me to say:

“Dear Giancarlo2 I was thinking of youwhen the package camewith the drawing of Fabrizio, I thought it was going to be a portrait of my dear friend Stanislao. If I understand correctly, this is meant to be him – but it only resembles him slightly or not at all –Thanks anyway,my sincerest regards, Leonor” (November 14 1994).

Leonor Fini photographed by Hugues Ronald 40s.
Original photo (one dedicated to Renzetti) © Eros Renzetti Archive

The last time Imet her it wasDecember 1995 – her lifelong friend had passed away two years earlier. This time shewasn’twearing a kimono butwas dressed all in black, with dark tights and a smock. She was already ill, and while we talked after breakfast, as she stood she leaned up against me, staring at me with her dark eyes beautifully made up with eye liner. This is my last memory, the last image I have of her. When I first met her I was impressed by her eyes, and now she was saying goodbye with her gaze, for the last time. Itwas the gaze of a sphinx ofmyriad puzzles who had known how to introduceme when Iwas still young, the gaze of themany tales she had told me and advice she had given me over the course of time. For example, what the best painting technique was and, above all, how to survive once I had reached my goal in the jungle of the art world.

"dark eyes beautifullymade up with eye liner"

Leonor Fini photographed by Eddy Brofferio 60s.
Original photo dedicated to Renzetti © Archive Eros Renzetti

One year in Saint-Dyé-sur-Loire I took some pictures of her and of Kot.3 Fabrizio and I both met her only once in Italy,4 in Ferrara, for her show at the Palazzo deiDiamanti in 1983. She had some vivid memories of Italy, but she didn’t care for the Italian critics “who failed to understand my painting”, she would often say, even though the Ferrara exhibition was a success. She even wrote this to me in answer to a letter in which I asked her for advice about how to presentmy first exhibition, and she suggested I turn to writers rather than critics:

“Dearest Giancarlo, I received your letter. I must tell you I don’t think my presenting you is a good idea. For the past 7 years (Ferrara Pal. Diamanti) I haven’t exhibited my work in Italy, nor have I had any other contacts except for the invitations to have my books translated or for the boring books I have receivedwith the request that I translate them here in France. I always say NO because in spite of the fact that I received excellent reviews in Ferrara I have never had any more contacts with Italy… I must add that precisely because of a certain affinity between your painting and mine, I assume it would be looked upon poorly – mistreated – in Italy. You need to find a critic or writer who is more neutral – and not to close, theway Iwas and theway you were with Fabrizio. Look for a good writer rather than” a ‘critic’ – this is what I’d do if I were you. I am speaking to you very sincerely and with a certain familiarity with Italian critics – I don’t remember their names now – who were kind and appreciative ofmy work. It would be better if you could find a writer. Very often your paintings in the reproductions you leftme and the beautiful drawing get good comments, but people ask me if you were – if you are – my pupil (I have never had any) or Fabrizio’s. We need to avoid this to avoid inaccurate labels. Here I see no one and deal with no one for the time being I think you’ll understand what I’m saying What’s happening with the pile of documents I gave you for Porcella? When do you think they’ ll publish the issue. Forgive me – for the lopsided writing too – due to the sudden terrible heat. Themail service is slowhere. I think of you with warmth and friendship. A loving kiss Leonor”. (April 6 1995).

Her letter puzzled me, although I knew she was right! And then, late one evening, the phone rang. “It’s Leonor! I just wanted to say…”, and she explained that she had thought of a text, a dedication, for my catalogue. She wanted to tell me herself before it arrived, and then it did arrive by mail and I published a facsimile of it:

“Dear Giancarlo, when I gaze at your beautiful drawing of a face that is perhaps oddly masked, and the mellow light that veils the two beings drawn to each other while burning with passion, I catch sight, thanks to your painterly touch, of the contrast that encompasses everything and is frightening. Leonor Fini5.

At that moment I realized that Leonor had interpretedmy images well, images that, while stemming from visionary styles, were different from hers and the exact opposite of Fabrizio Clerici’s, where the architecture is the key element. In Ferrara I remember an episode that amused us: after accompanying her to her hotel room, which Franco Farina, the promoter of the exhibition, had thoughtfully booked for her, after turning on the light she went to the drinks cabinet and, after quickly opening the door, with one arm she swept all those “poisonous” things it contained, as she referred to them, to instead replace them with her diet food that she had asked me to carry in my jacket, transformed for the occasion into a serving tray.

Anatomical head, 1989
tempera on paper, 12,6 x 11,8 inches (32 x 30 cm)
Paris, private collection
Provenance Leonor Fini, Paris

Fabrizio and I eventually went to visit her in Paris. It wasn’t the first time, but that year, she had said to us, an important retrospective of her work was due to open at the Musée du Luxembourg.6. But the real reason for our visit was that she wanted to see Fabrizio again, her lifelong friend, even though they had seen each other not too long before. So we left, and I was thinking about talking to her about a certain ball the two of them had taken part in in the 1950s in Venice.
Whenever it was time to leave Fabrizio would always be in a state of constant agitation, with his nerves fraught, but the idea of seeing his dear friend again attracted him. He had funwithLeonor, he loved chattingwith her.Their conversationswere “performances”: they tried their hand at ferocious imitations of people Iwas not familiarwith – I was too young – whom they had spent time with in the past, princesses, aristocratics and high diplomats whom they had portrayed and “gotten a lot ofmoney out of” at the time, they would say. Indeed, between the 1940s and 1950s they had been perhaps the most sought after figurative painters, not just in Europe, and had received exclusive commissions from patrons and rich collectors; among the high-sounding names that requested their “acrobatics with the paintbrush” were the Rothschilds, the Rockefellers, the Agnellis… just to name the most famous ones.They had worked together a lot in Rome and in nearby Tor San Lorenzo7, and then in Milan, in Monte Carlo, Ischia, Venice, Paris, Nonza, and while they worked they hardly thought of having any fun, theywere like two ferrets, very fast.

Fabrizio Clerici and Leonor Fini photographed by Eddy Brofferio 60s in Nonza in Corsica.
Original Photo © Eros Renzetti Archive

As they shed and changed their skin and semblances, the two “chameleons” had played, using a supreme and sublime sublime technique, with the many styles that from Art Nouveau stretched all the way to the extreme experiences of the early part of the 20th century. They had examined metaphysics with respect, esteem and complicity in the company of Giorgio de Chirico,with friendship in that of Alberto Savinio. They had “toyed” with Surrealism and frequented Max Ernst, Leonora Carrington, Dorothea Tanning, Henri Cartier-Bresson and many other artists and intellectuals, and while Mademoiselle Fini said “no!” to André Breton and Monsieur Clerici assiduously read the magazine “Minotaure”, as well as meeting Tristan Zara and Jean Cocteau between Milan and Rome, both were bound on a par and à la page to Salvador Dalí8.

"a par and à la page toSalvador Dalí"

Left: Leonor Fini and Salvador Dalí in 1951.
Photo  ©Eros Renzetti Archive
right: Fabrizio Clerici and Salvador Dalí on the occasion of the exhibition of Spanish painter at the Casino Aurora in Palazzo Pallavicini Rospigliosi, in the spring of 1954. On the wall the Madonna of Port Lligat.
Photo Interfoto, © collection: Raccolte Museali Fratelli Alinari (RMFA)-archivio Clerici, Firenze
“L’Amour sans condition”, 1975
Ink on paper, 31.5 x 21.5 cm
Signed lower right Leonor Fini
Eros Renzetti collection, Rome
Donated by the artist to Renzetti in 1982

What happened that time, oncewe had reachedLeonor’s studio-home, after havingwalked up the steps,whichwere all different from each other, of the spiral staircase that led to the interior of her house, almost on the top floor,was that we rang the doorbell, unaware of what was about to take place. She, or rather a strange figure, opened the door.Already theway the doorwas opened did not bode well… Surprised and frightened,we stared at the entrance and what we saw was a shadow, a black figure, waving a booklet between her thumb and index finger9. The voice was unmistakably Leonor’s, who shouted: “Is he your friend?” She was so agitated that shemay have been crying. Then we embraced and went inside.
I pretended to be playingwith the cats, Fabrizio put on his glasses and, for fear shemight throwit out thewindow, he took the incriminated booklet from her hands. They sat down on the red sofa and for a second silence fell. At a certain point Leonor got up, she picked up the book again and with a pencil that her assistant, Rafael Martinez – he and Richard Overstreet had been friends of hers for a long time, sharing a life with her – had brought over her, and began reading out loud, correcting it, making remarks, sometimes in French, and in the meantime tearing the pages out and scattering them about in the sitting room. The object of so much rage was an essay by Indro Montanelli who, she believed, denigrated her. Fabrizio knew nothing about it, in spite of the fact that he and Montanelli were very good friends. She understood and threw the small publication inmy direction, saying: “Take it to Italy and have it destroyed with the other copies!” as if I had who knows which magical powers. I still keep the rare publication with the corrections in her handwriting and the tears shemade in the pages still there.Theword “true” was added next to these words by Montanelli: “…fiftyseven thousand eight hundred francs for an artisan in Bari tomake somemetal flies to then be applied to a costume that she will wear only once at a party.”

Les Migrateurs, 1983
oil on paper, 44 x 34 cm
Signed lower right Leonor Fini
Eros Renzetti collection, Rome
Donated by the artist to Renzetti in 1986


1 Laura Gavioli, La Panthera Pardus, il Re Luna, il San Sebastiano. Leonor Fini, Fabrizio Clerici, Eros Renzetti, in Leonor Fini. L’Italienne de Paris, catalogue of the exhibition curated by Maria Masau Dan, Civico Museo Revoltella, Trieste, July 4 – September  27 2009.
2 Giancarlo is the name that was given to Eros Renzetti at birth, and that is what Leonor Fini calledme at the time.
3 Konstanty Aleksander Jeleński (1922-1987), Polish poet and writer, who was close to and lived with Leonor Fini for many years.
4 Leonor Fini’s friendship with Fabrizio Clerici dates back to the 1940s, with time spent together in Italy, butmore often inFrance. See Laura Gavioli, op. cit.
5 Text publishedin the catalogue of the first solo exhibition of Eros Renzetti: Giancarlo Renzetti. Dipinti e disegni, Galleria Ca’ d’Oro, Rome, 26 June – 26 July 1995.
6  Leonor Fini, Musée du Luxembourg, Paris, 17 June -16 July 1986, catalogue Éditions Guy Pieters.
7 On Leonor Fini and Fabrizio Clerici’s stay in Tor San Lorenzo, near Ardea, see Laura Gavioli, op. cit., and the frames fromthe documentary La torre del surreale, La Settimana Incom, 26 September 1952 (©Cinecittà Luce S.p.A.)
8 On the relationship between Clerici and Dalí see also the articles by Fabrizio Clerici in memory of his friend soon after his death, “Tre incontri con Salvador Dalí (Al ballo in camicia da notte)”, in Il Giornale, 24 January 1989, and “Tre incontri con Salvador Dalí (Lo scandalo di essere un genio)”, in Il Messaggero, 24 January 1989. While writing them Clerici re-examined, so as to check certain facts, this conversation on the Beistegui ball in 1986. Recently the catalogue for an important exhibition in Rome, Salvador Dalí. Un artista un genio, curated by Montse Aguer and Lea Mattarella, at the Complesso Monumentale del Vittoriano (March 9-July 1 2012, catalogue published by Skira), contained an important essay entitled “Salvador Dalí in Italia”, edited by Rosa Maria Maurell and Lucia Moni of the Centre d’Estudis Dalinians of the Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí.
9 Leonor Fini. Omaggio a un sortilegio, texts by Marcel Brion, Jean-Claude Dedieu, Robert Lebel, Grytzko Miscioni, Indro Montanelli and Alberto Savinio, Giardini Editori e Stampatori, Pisa, 1986.

The present text of  Eros Renzetti has been published in its entirety with the title:
Masks and Dominoes Conversations with Fabrizio Clerici, Leonor Fini, Marina Cicogna
in Fabrizio Clerici nel centenario della nascita, 1913-1993, edited by Archivio Fabrizio Clerici,
monograph, Skira, Milan 2013, pp. 119,131.

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©Eros Renzetti

Location: Milan
More Info: ISBN: 978-88-572-2115-1
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Publisher: Skira
Organization: Archivio Fabrizio Clerici
Publication Date: Nov 2013
Publication Name: Fabrizio Clerici nel centenario della nascita 1913-1993