From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Alice Ernestine Prin (October 2, 1901 – April 29, 1953), was a French artists' model, nightclub singer, actress, and painter. Her chosen name was simply, Kiki, but she also was referred to as, Reine de la Montparnasse, the Queen of Montparnasse, and Kiki de Montparnasse. She flourished in, and helped define, the liberated culture of Paris in the 1920s. In 1996, biographers, Billy Kluver and Julie Martin, called her "one of the century's first truly independent women." In 2007, her life was celebrated in the biographical graphic novel, Kiki de Montparnasse.
Alice Prin was born in Châtillon-sur-Seine, Côte d'Or, Burgundy, France. An illegitimate child, she was raised in abject poverty by her grandmother. At age twelve, she was sent to live with her mother in Paris in order to find work. She first worked in shops and bakeries. By age fourteen, she was posing nude for sculptors, which created discord with her mother.
Kiki became a fixture in the Montparnasse social scene and a popular artists' model, posing for dozens of artists, including Chaim Soutine, Julian Mandel, Tsuguharu Foujita, Francis Picabia, Jean Cocteau, Arno Breker, Alexander Calder, Per Krohg, Hermine David, Pablo Gargallo, Mayo, and Tono Salazar. Moise Kisling painted a portrait of Kiki titled Nu assis, one of his best known.
Man Ray, her companion for most of the 1920s, made hundreds of portraits of her. She is the subject of some of his best-known images, including Le violon d'Ingres and Noire et blanche. She appears in nine short and often experimental films, including Fernand Léger's Ballet mécanique without any credit.
Successful artwork and banned autobiography
A painter in her own right, in 1927 Kiki had a sold-out exhibition of her paintings at Galerie au Sacre du Printemps in Paris. Signing her artwork with her chosen single name, Kiki, she usually noted the year. Her drawings and paintings comprise portraits, self-portraits, social activities, fanciful animals, and dreamy landscapes composed in a light, slightly uneven, expressionist style that is a reflection of her easy-going manner and boundless optimism.
Ernest Hemingway and Tsuguharu Foujita provided the introduction for her 1929 memoirs. Entitled, "Kiki's Memoirs", it was published the following year in New York City by Black Manikin Press, but immediately was banned by the United States government. Kiki's Memoirs remained barred in the United States through the late 1970s when it was still held in the section for banned books in the New York Public Library. Finally, in 1996, her autobiography was translated into English and published.
Kiki's music hall performances in black hose and garters included crowd-pleasing risqué songs, which were uninhibited, yet inoffensive. For a few years during the 1930s, she owned a Montparnasse cabaret, which she named, Chez Kiki.
The symbol of bohemian and creative Paris, at age of twenty-eight she was declared Queen of Montparnasse. Even during difficult times, she maintained her positive attitude, saying "all I need is an onion, a bit of bread, and a bottle of red [wine]; and I will always find somebody to offer me that". She left Paris to avoid the occupying German army during World War Two and she never returned as a resident.
Death and legacy
Kiki died in 1953 in Sanary-sur-Mer, France at the age of fifty-two. A large crowd of artists and fans attended her funeral in Paris and followed the procession to her burial in Cimetière du Montparnasse. Her burial site is identified as, Kiki, 1901-1953, singer, actor, painter, "Queen of Montparnasse". Foujita said that, with Kiki, they buried—forever—the glorious days of Montparnasse.
Long after her death, Kiki remains the embodiment of the outspokenness, audacity, and creativity that marked this period of Montparnasse. In her honor, a daylily was named, Kiki de Montparnasse.
- 1923 : L'Inhumaine de Marcel L'Herbier
- 1923 : Le Retour à la raison de Man Ray, court métrage
- 1923 : Ballet mécanique de Fernand Léger, court métrage
- 1923 : Entr'acte de René Clair, court métrage
- 1923 : La Galerie des monstres de Jaque Catelain
- 1926 : Emak Bakia de Man Ray, court métrage
- 1928 : L'Étoile de mer de Man Ray
- 1928 : Paris express / Souvenirs de Paris de Pierre Prévert et Marcel Duhamel, court métrage
- 1930 : Le Capitaine jaune de Anders Wilhelm Sandberg
- 1933 : Cette vieille canaille de Anatol Litvak
- Kiki de Montparnasse (2007); by Catel & Bocquet (in French) Bruxelles: Casterman
- Kiki of Montparnasse (1968); by Frederick Kohner (a novel) London: Cassell ISBN 0-304-93242-6
- Kiki: Reine de Montparnasse (1988); by Lou Mollgaard (in French) Paris: Laffont
- Kiki's Memoirs (1996) translation by Samuel Putnam (original ed. pub by J. Corti, Paris)
- Kiki's Paris (1989); by Klüver and Martin. (French translation - Paris: Flammarion)