Niki de Saint Phalle: A Life, 1930–2002

Niki is born Catherine Marie-Agnès de Saint Phalle on October 29, 1930 in France. Her father is French, her mother American. She is the second of five children of a wealthy family who lose their business and fortune in the stock market collapse.

She spends most of her childhood and adolescence in New York City, though strong ties are maintained with the family in France through frequent visits. As a teenager, in an early display of her later artistic temperament, she paints the fig leaves of her convent school's classical sculptures red. She transfers to a new school shortly thereafter.

Vogue CoverAs a young woman, Niki's first career is as a fashion model, with photographs appearing in Vogue and Life. At 18, she elopes with childhood friend Harry Mathews.

In 1950, Niki begins making her first paintings while her husband studies music at Harvard University. Laura, their first child, is born in Boston in 1951.

In 1952, Niki moves to Paris to study theater and acting while Harry studies music. They summer in the south of France, Spain, and Italy, visiting museums and cathedrals.

In 1953, hospitalized for a nervous breakdown, Niki finds that painting helps her to overcome this crisis and decides to give up acting and become an artist.

After her recovery, Niki and Harry briefly return to Paris, where she is encouraged by other artists to continue painting in her unique self-taught style. They then move to Mallorca, where son Philip is born in 1955.

In Spain, Niki discovers the work of Antonio Gaudí and is deeply affected, especially by Park Güell in Barcelona, which plants the idea to create her own sculpture garden and inspires her to use diverse materials and found objects as essential elements in her art.

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