Lena Constante was born in Bucharest, the daughter of a journalist and his wife. Her family fled the city during World War I, and Lena spent much of her childhood in Odessa, London and Paris. After the war, she returned to her native city and studied painting at the National University of Arts. She became part of a circle of intellectuals and entered left-wing politics. For a sociology project, she visited rural Romanian villages and learned about traditional folk art, which she later used as inspiration in her work. She became a book illustrator, and began exhibiting her artwork in 1934. After World War II, she worked as a stage designer for the newly founded Ţăndărică Theater. In 1954, during a wave of Communist political terror, she was arrested on trumped-up charges of treason and espionage, and after a secret trial, sentenced to 12 years in prison. She was released in 1962 but denied the right to work publicly as an artist before being "rehabilitated" in 1968. She married Harry Brauner, a musicologist. Her memoir The Silent Escape: Three Thousand Days in Romanian Prisons (1990), first published in France, described her years of solitary confinement, torture, starvation, and daily humiliation.
She starred as herself in Nebunia Capetelor, a 1997 film based on the book.