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Niki de Saint Phalle
Neuilly-sur-Seine, 1930-2002, San Diego

Niki de Saint Phalle in Deià, 1955,
Color photograph
Niki Charitable Art Foundation, Santee, CA, USA
© Niki Charitable Art Foudation, Santee, USA

Niki de Saint Phalle in Deià, 1955,
Color photograph
Niki Charitable Art Foundation, Santee, CA, USA
© Niki Charitable Art Foudation, Santee, USA


10.29.1930 Birth of Catherine Marie-Agnès Fal de Saint Phalle (called Niki) in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France. The family later settles in New York, where Saint Phalle attends the Convent School of the Sacred Heart.

1940 Starting in 1946 Saint Phalle works as a model. Photos of her appear in Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and on the cover of Life Magazine.

1949 Marries Harry Mathews, future writer and member of the OuLiPo experimental group, in New York City.


1950 Niki de Saint Phalle begins to paint her first oil and gouache paintings.

1951 Birth of their daughter Laura.

1952 Looking to escape the repressive atmosphere of McCarthy-era American society, Niki and Harry move to Paris.

1953 Following a serious nervous breakdown, the artist is hospitalized in Nice. Doctors diagnose her with schizophrenia and make her undergo electroshock therapy.

1955 The artist discovers the work of architect Antoni Gaudí. Birth of their second child, Philip.

1956 First solo exhibition at the Gotthard gallery in Saint-Gallen, Switzerland. She meets Jean Tinguely and his wife Eva Aeppli, who live in the Impasse Ronsin, in Montparnasse.


1960 Separation from her husband, Harry Mathews. She moves to the Impasse Ronsin with Jean Tinguely.

1961 First shooting session. Pierre Restany invites the artist to join the group of Nouveaux Réalistes. Exhibition Feu à volonté (Fire at will) at the Galerie J in Paris.

1965 First Nanas created in fabric and wool; later she will produce them in resin and painted plaster.

1966 Saint Phalle is invited by Pontus Hultén to install a monumental Nana, Hon (“she” in Swedish), at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm.

1967 First museum exhibition, at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, entitled Les Nanas au pouvoir (Nana Power).

1968 Exhibition Dada, Surrealism, and Their Heritage at the MoMA in New York. Saint Phalle is one of four women included. Construction of The Bird’s Dream (Le Rêve de l’oiseau), her first large-scale architectural project.


1970 Opening of the third and final festival of the Nouveaux Réalistes in Milan. Niki de Saint Phalle shoots at a 10-foot altar-assemblage of crucifixes and statues of the Virgin.

1971 A new series of sculptures on the theme of the Devouring Mothers, which, after the Nanas, offers a more critical view of women. Marries Jean Tinguely.

1972 Construction in Jerusalem of The Golem (Le Golem), the first piece of architecture for children. First full-length film: Daddy.

1974 Niki de Saint Phalle installs three Nanas in Hanover, nicknamed Caroline, Charlotte, and Sophie by its citizens.

1975 Second full-length film: A Dream Longer than the Night (Un rêve plus long que la nuit).

1978 Work begins on the Tarot Garden in Tuscany.


1980 Presentation of her first collections of furniture design, decorative objects, and a perfume. The revenue will fund one third of the Tarot Garden. First retrospective in France, at the Centre Pompidou.

1983 Construction of the Stravinsky Fountain in Paris. Work on the Tarot Garden continues. The artist moves into the belly of The Empress, which she transforms into a house.

1984 Becomes involved in the fight against AIDS.


1992 Retrospective organized by Pontus Hultén in Bonn. The exhibition later travels to Glasgow and to the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris.

1993 The artist moves to La Jolla, California.

1994 Publication of her memoir, My Secret, in which she reveals that she was raped by her father at the age of eleven. Opening of the Niki Museum in Nasu, Japan.

1998 Opening of the Tarot Garden to the public.

1999 Completion of a series of sculptures, Black Heroes, in homage to several personalities in the African American community. She recives the Praemium Imperiale from the Japan Art Association.


2000 Donation of a significant portion of her work to the Sprengel Museum in Hanover.

2001 Donation of another portion of her work to the Musée d’Art Moderne et d’Art Contemporain in Nice. Official opening of Noah’s Ark in Jerusalem, a sculpture garden created with architect Mario Botta.

21.05.2002 Death of the artist at age 71 as a result of chronic respiratory failure.

2003 Opening of Queen Califia’s Magical Circle (Le Cercle magique de la Reine Califia) garden in Escondido, California.