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The “Queen of Montparnasse” was the nickname given to the inimitable force of nature born as Alice Ernestine Prin. Growing up in Châtillon-sur-Seine, Alice, or as she later came to be known – Kiki of Montparnasse – was a poor girl who believed in the prospects that life in the big city could afford her. Arriving in Paris at the tender age of 13, she became an art model, posing for dozens of artists including Chaim Soutine, Julian Mandel, Tsuguharu Foujita, Constant Detré, Francis Picabia, Jean Cocteau, Arno Breker, Alexander Calder, Per Krohg, Hermine David, Pablo Gargallo, Mayo, and Tono Salazar. She eventually became the companion of Man Ray, who made hundreds of portraits of her, immortalizing her in his famous work “Violon d’Ingres”, in which she lends her naked back to two cello curls.
Kiki was one of the most charismatic figures of the avant-garde years between the wars. She would crumble a petal from geraniums to give color to her cheeks and was fired from a job at a bakery because she darkened her eyebrows with burnt matchsticks. She sang bawdy songs in nightclubs, showed her own paintings, acted in experimental films, and wrote her memoirs before she turned 30. She flourished in, and helped define, the liberated culture of Paris in the 1920s. Kiki was the ultimate muse of a generation that sought to escape the Great War, but she is above all one of the first emancipated women of the 20th century. Today, her memoirs are kept in a special reserve section of the New York Public Library.