Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Molti Ritratti: Kiki de Montparnasse

Alice Prin (1901-53), better known as Kiki de Montparnasse, was the archetypical artist's model / bohemian bon vivante of 1920s Paris. Never-married, her best-known companion was Man Ray, who painted in Dada-Surrealist modes but is best known as a photographer ranging from experimental work to high fashion. He took many pictures of Kiki, some of which are indeed iconic.

I found biographical information about her on the Internet to be rather skimpy. Here is her Wikipedia entry in English and the French entry is here. Neither is truly informative, though the general path of her life is sketched. A source I like is this book which contains a decent amount of text along with scads of fascinating photos of Kiki and many of the rest of the arty crowd that inhabited the Left Bank; the coverage is roughly 1900 to 1930.

The Internet offers many photos of Kiki, but not a lot of paintings. And many of those painting are of her "in the nude" as it was once politely phrased -- she was an artist's model, after all. Nevertheless, below are a few photographs to set the scene, followed by interpretations of her face by various painters.


By Man Ray

When proclaimed "Queen of Montparnasse"

By André Kertész - 1927

With Alexander Calder

By Foujita

By Man Ray - 1923

By Luigi Corbellini

By Gustaw Gwozdecki

By Moise Kisling

By Kees van Dongen

By Per Krogh - 1928

Note that even the photographs show that Kiki's appearance was elusive. In part this had to do with camera angle, lighting and whatever makeup she was wearing. Otherwise, her shape changed over the 1920s as she got older and added weight: note how she looks in the Kert├ęsz photo (and how Krogh slimmed her down).


Hels said...

I presume Kiki acted differently with each painter or photographer, and that each man therefore presented her slightly differently. Moise Kisling's portrait was quiet, normal, almost reflective. Kees van Dongen's portait was bohemian, cool, sophisticated. She must have been quite a woman!

dearieme said...

Kiki the Conkeror.

mike shupp said...

Hmmm... the same two works impressed me as well. My own take: the van Dongen (marvelous simplicity!) gives a somewhat idealized but recognizable image of the woman in the top three photographs: a beautiful, rich, sophistocated woman -- perhaps Kiki as she wished to be seen.

The Kisling's something else. Quite a bit of work in that scarf, for one thing, quite a bit as well in the dress. The right-side eye (her left) is larger than the left side, the slant of the eyelids differs; her nose is assymmetric; there's a suggestion of a protruding chin (Gwozdecki got it as well, Kertesz's photo showed what it would become.) The right side breast seems heavier. All this in a painting where the viewer's eye is first caught by that simple, almost featureless, young, pale face.

LOTS of assymmetry here, in other words. Lots of complications, lots of choices -- in the painting, and by implication, in life. Plus she's literally backed into a corner, eyes focused downward, mouth closed and taut, her hands clasped pensively, not quite in prayer but suggestive ...

All this detail, and the woman as painted has almost NO resemblence to any other image here of Kiki de Montparnasse. So this isn't Kiki. Not Kiki "as Kiki" anyhow. Maybe it's Kiki remembering Alice Prin, or Alice on the path to becoming Kiki, or Kisling seeing Kiki and remembering Alice, or ...

mike shupp said...

And now that I've spent an hour or two blathering here, Wikipedia assures me that "Moise Kisling painted a portrait of Kiki titled Nu assis, one of his best known."

So other folks liked the work as well. Duh!