Born in Chatillon-sur-Seine, Côte d'Or, Burgundy, France on October 2, 1901. An illegitimate child, she was raised in abject poverty by her grandmother. At age 12 she was sent to Paris to be educated and by age 14 she was posing nude for sculptors.
Alice Prin became one of the most famous artists' models ever, the most notable of which is a colection of photographs by Man Ray and the portrait of her painted by Moise Kisling titled Nu assis. Her partnership with Man Ray produced some of Surrealism's most significant images. The symbol of bohemian and creative Paris, at age 28 she was declared "Queen of Montparnasse." Her music hall performances, in black hose and garters, included crowd-pleasing raunchy songs, which somehow were both uninhibited yet inoffensive. She also had a role in nine different motion pictures, including Fernand Leger's famous Ballet mécanique.
She was the mistress of Man Ray, and a friend of Chaim Soutine, Jean Cocteau, Max Ernst and other artists. Ernest Hemingway and Tsuguharu Foujita provided the introduction for her 1929 memoirs. This book was published the following year in New York City by Black Manikin Press but it was banned by the United States government. Kiki's Memoirs remained barred in the United States as late as the 1970s when it was still held in the section for banned books in the New York Public Library. Finally, in 1996, her book was translated and published.
Long after her time, Kiki remains the embodiment of the outspokenness, audacity, and creativity that marked this period of Montparnasse. She has a Daylily named after her: Kiki De Montparnasse.
A capable painter in her own right, a sold-out exhibition of Kiki's own paintings was held in Paris' Galerie au Sacre du Printemps in 1927. Her drawings and paintings comprised portraits and dreamy landscapes composed in a light, slightly uneven expressionist style that was very much a reflection of her own easy-going manner and boundless optimism.
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."
When she died, a huge crowd of artists and fans attended her funeral. Foujita said that with Kiki, they buried forever the glorious days of Montparnasse.