The Passenger

A Story of a Painting
by Celina Simmons

When searching Leonor Fini’s collections, there is no doubt one would come across a piece that makes them stop, simply from the artist’s alluring style. Fini has been named the “brilliant bisexual cat-lady of surrealism,” and I think that is amazing. Although many of her pieces depict women with feline-like characteristics, I chose to dig deeper into “The Passenger” or “La Passagére,” a 74 cm x 52.5 cm, surreal lithography print, dating back to 1974. Today it can be found at the Gallery D&H Goossens in Belgium.

“The Passenger” portrays a woman in a very light, white and orange sheer gown. She is holding a white rose while being carried by a dark and looming creature underneath. The viewers’ eyes cannot help but be drawn back and forth between the illuminated woman and the creature’s sharp, ivory teeth. The woman does not seem frightened, rather she is in control of this creature. With a calm expression on her face, it leaves an unsettling feeling about the story behind the art. My initial interpretation of this story was along the lines of the woman being a seemingly pure and successful person that hides the corrupt or evil inside them, that is the creature.

In the process of mapping out this paper, I thought more about my feelings towards this piece and if I could relate to it. To answer that – yes, I can relate to it and I think this original interpretation can be applied to many aspects of our lives, such as politics, pop culture, religion, and even in relationships. For example, there are celebrities in pop culture that are seen as “America’s sweetheart” when in reality, they are as cutthroat as the next person. 

It got me wondering if that is the only way? To be truly recognized, at the level many find acceptable, does one have no other choice but to ride this creature of corruption? I would hope not. Then I began to ask myself why I assumed this appearingly calm woman succumbed to such a looming creature? What if she had complete control of the beast? Can one still be pure at heart, if they tread with caution this way?

I then considered the name, “The Passenger.” Who is the passenger? Is it she, travelling beside this beast as a tool or partner? Or is it the beast that is tagging along? Perhaps the beast is her past that was once her captor, and now a prisoner that she keeps close. A reminder to her that no matter how ruthless her world becomes, she knows how to control her own and dance with her demons, rather than fight them. Embracing the pain of people, past lives, and herself to carry her into the next battle. I think I like this story better.

I think what makes this piece memorable is not only this thought train I found myself on, but the stark contrast between the woman and the eye of the beast. Fini used similar colors for the woman and the creature’s teeth, as I mentioned before how one cannot help but get stuck between the two of them. Everytime I look at this piece, my eyes go from her face, to the rose, to the teeth, and stop at the eye. The deep red is in such difference to the light colors in the woman, and even to the smudged background. But also the shading helps emphasize how hollow the eye must be and to me, personally, it is very captivating.

Fini’s use of composition with the woman filling most of the print and the beast’s body almost blending into the smudged background really helped reinstate the focal point on the woman and her rose. The texture is very spotty and that helps with blending in some areas, like the creature’s body fading out in the back. The background behind the woman is just dark brownish black with red smudges directly behind her. I think this use of color ties in well with the creature’s eye, but I think maybe the woman would’ve seemed more luminescent with less red. Overall, it is an encapsulating work of art and I feel a newfound connection with this “surrealist cat-lady.”

Bonus Leonor Fini Quote : “I always imagined I would have a life very different from the one that was imagined for me, but I understood from a very early time that I would have to revolt in order to make that life. Now I am convinced that in any creativity there exists this element of revolt.


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