Alice Prin, known as Kiki de Montparnasse, died one day in 1953, on the little triangular place at the intersection of the Boulevard Montparnasse and the Boulevard Raspail, within sight of both the Café du Dôme and La Coupole. She had been painted and sculpted by some of the most famous names of the 1920s, but her image is immortalised above all in the photographs taken by her lover, Man Ray. In 1924 he had depicted her as Le Violon d’Ingres, her head swathed in a turban, her back painted with squiggles to suggest the shape of a violin. Unlike Man Ray and most of the others, Kiki never deserted Montparnasse, and she becomes one of the threads that hold this story together, a tale that has been told many times before – about the Dadaists and the Surrealists, those respectable-looking young men who set out to shock and change the world.
Man Ray (whose real name was Emmanuel Radnitsky) was born in Brooklyn, where his parents, first-generation Russian immigrants, had moved in the first decade of the twentieth century. He was twenty-one in 1911 when he met Alfred Stieglitz and saw the work of Picasso for the first time. In 1913,