"The sculptures then had a melancholy look with a certain sad beauty. My purpose, however, was to make a garden of joy"
Niki De Saint Phalle, in reference to the Tarot Garden


After a troubled childhood spent between France and the United States, she graduated from Oldfields School in Maryland. In 1949 she married Harry Mathews, with whom she moved to Paris and then for some time in Spain. They had two children but in 1959 separated. In 1960 she started a long and happy collaboration with Jean Tinguely, which lasted until his death 1991; she became a member of the "Nouveaux Réalistes". In the 1960s she experimented with visual art, the theatre and music, with the most vanguard artists of the time. In 1962 she created “Shooting Sessions” in California and New York. In 1965 she created her first “Nanas”. In 1994 she moved to San Diego, after having lived for long stretches of time in Italy. 

Besides group exhibitions, she has presented her art works internationally in numerous solo exhibitions, among which: St. Gallen, Switzerland 1956; Galerie Rive Droite, Paris 1962; Hanover Gallery, London 1964, 1968, 1969-1970; Alexander Iolas Galleries, New York and Paris 1962, 1965, 1968, 1974; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam 1967; Hannover Kunstverein 1969; The Cloister of St. Trophime, Arles, and Palais des Beaux-Arts, Bruxelles 1975; Watari Gallery, Tokyo 1979, 1982; Gimpel & Weitzenhoffer Gallery, New York, and travelling at the Columbus museums, St. Louis, San Diego and Palm Springs 1979, anthological, Centre Georges Pompidou, and travelling in Duisburg, Linz, Nuremberg, Berlin, Hannover e Stockholm 1980 "Space Niki", Tokyo 1980, 1982-1983, 1986, 1987; Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung, Munich 1987; Nassau County Museum, Roslyn, Long Island 1987, JGM Galerie and Galerie de France 1989; 1990; Musée des Arts Decoratifs, Paris 1990; Gimpel Fils Gallery, London 1991; travelling: Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle, Bonn; McLellan Galleries, Glagow; Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris; Musée d'Art et d'Histoire, Fribourg 1992-1993; anthological travelling in the main museum of Central and Latin America 1994-1999; Mingei International Museum, San Diego 1998; travelling retrospective in Ulm, Ludwigshafen and Fremden 1999-2000; and posthumous: Sprengel Museum, Hannover 2002; Palais-Royal Gardens, Paris 2003.

Among her main collections: "Hon e Le Paradis Fantastique", with Jean Tinguely, Moderna Museet, Stockholm; Whitney Museum, New York; "La Tete", with various artists, Milly-La-Forêt, France; "Le Golem", Park Rabinovitch, Jerusalem; Hannover, Germany; "Fontaine Stravinsky", with Jean Tinguely, Beaubourg, Paris; University of California, San Diego; Duisburg, Germany; Fukuoka, Japan; Seoul, Corea; "The Tarot Garden",  with 22 monumental sculptures, Capalbio 1978-1998; Mingei International Park, San Diego, CA; "Noah's Ark", with Mario Botta, Jerusalem; donation by the artist (300 works), Sprengel Museum, Hannover; donation by the artist, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris and Musée d'Art Moderne et d'Art Contemporaine, Nice.

She received numerous public commissions worldwide, among which: the "Dragon", a playhouse for children, Knokke-le-Zoute, Belgium 1972-1975; "Fontaine", with Jean Tinguely, comissioned by François Mitterand, Château-Chinon, France; "Ange Protecteur" (h 10 m.), Swiss Railways CFF, Zürich 1994-1999; Port of San Diego, CA; "Queen Califia's Magical Circle", park, Escondido, CA 2003. Among her main prices received are: "Niki Museum", Nasu, Japan 1994; "Le Prix Caran d'Ache" 1994-1999; "XII Prix Imperial", Japan 2000. Some of her works were created at the Franco Cervietti laboratory and at the L'Arte foundry in Pietrasanta.

The photographs published in the TimeLine were taken from the Museo dei Bozzetti website www.museodeibozzetti.it