Kiki de Montparnasse by Catel Muller and Jose-Luis Bocquet is one of the few French books that I’ve read from cover to cover. Spanning more than 400 pages, this graphic novel offers a colourful glimpse into les Années Folles (the Roaring Twenties) in Montparnasse, Paris through the life of Alice Prin.
Better known as Kiki de Montparnasse, or simply Kiki, she was the muse of various artists living in Paris during the 1920s. Many of them were foreigners and had yet to achieve wide acclaim. Kiki posed for several of them, including Tsuguharu Foujita and Moïse Kisling, as well as the surrealist artist, Man Ray, who was her lover for six years.
Before I read this biography, I knew little about Kiki except that she posed for Man Ray. The cover of the book is based on Le Violon d’Ingres, one of the famous images of her by Man Ray.
Kiki of Montparnasse is a fascinating biography of Kiki who embodied the audacity, creativity and free-spiritedness of the Roaring Twenties. Fiercely independent, impetuous and bohemian, she was at the heart of the bustling social scene in Paris’ 14th arrondissement, hence her nickname: la Reine de Montparnasse (Queen of Montparnasse).
“Mais non! Un oignon cru, un bout de pain et du vin rouge ça me suffit, tu sais!”
Larger than life, she did whatever she wanted, leading a debauched lifestyle dotted with numerous lovers. Sadly, the Queen’s colourful life deteriorated as she became dependant on alcohol and cocaine, before eventually dying due to her alcoholism.
Man Ray met her by chance in 1951 in Montparnasse when he was visiting Paris. Upon seeing the sorry state that she was in, he had asked her if she needed money or assistance.
To which she replied with spunk: Mais non! Un oignon cru, un bout de pain et du vin rouge ça me suffit, tu sais! (No! A raw onion, a heel of bread and some red wine is enough for me).
After reading Kiki de Montparnasse, I feel like having a glass of red wine and toasting to this remarkable woman.