Niki de Saint Phalle

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Niki de Saint Phalle in 1964, portrayed by Erling Mandelmann

Niki de Saint Phalle (də sɛ̃ ˈfal, actually Catherine Marie-Agnès Fal de Saint Phalle * October 29, 1930 in Neuilly-sur-Seine near Paris ; † May 21, 2002 in San Diego ) was a French - Swiss painter and internationally known Sculptor of Modernity .

In Germany she was best known as an artist for her " Nana " figures, which were set up in 1974 in Hanover on Leibnizufer, now part of the sculpture mile. Her donation of works by her husband Jean Tinguely made it possible to build the Museum Tinguely in Basel after his death .


Lifesaver fountain in Duisburg
Adam in Thessaloniki
Niki-de-Saint-Phalle-Grotto in the Great Garden in Hanover-Herrenhausen
Partial view of the Stravinsky Fountain in Paris
The poet and his muse on the sculpture trail at Ulm University
The Golem , Kiryat Hayovel, Jerusalem

Niki de Saint Phalle was born in the Parisian suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine as the daughter of André Marie Fal de Saint Phalle and Jeanne Jacqueline (née Harper). The father, a banker from an old French aristocratic family, was a stockbroker who fell into poverty during the stock market crash of 1929 . The mother was American. Niki grew up mainly in the USA and was granted Swiss citizenship in 1971 as a result of her marriage to Jean Tinguely , who was originally from Basel ( resident in Basel). Like Tinguely, she was close friends with the family of the art patron and collector Theodor Ahrenberg, who also lived in Switzerland .

From 1936 to 1945 Niki de Saint Phalle attended the Sacré-Cœur monastery school in New York . At the age of eleven, she was sexually abused by her father - a shock that later led her to art through therapy.

Her artist friend Pontus Hultén wrote about her:

“More or less consciously, she gradually understood that art is a principle of life, for some people perhaps the principle of life in general, which unfortunately, together with its powers, had been domesticated and cultivated. At the same time, she recognized that this principle could be used at will to summon dark forces and take them into service. There were no rules or restrictions for this, she could do what she wanted. This way of establishing a relationship between the world inside her and the outside world and thus finding an identity was offered to her in a crisis situation. Her first pictures show very precisely how she was able to release violence and arousal in this way. "

She herself said:

“I was an angry young woman, but there are many angry young men and women who still don't become artists. I became an artist because there was no alternative for me - as a result, I didn't have to make a decision. It was my destiny. At other times I would have been locked in an insane asylum forever - but as it was, I was only under strict psychiatric supervision for a short time, with ten electric shocks, etc. I embraced art as salvation and necessity. "

At the age of 18 she secretly married her childhood friend Harry Mathews , and in 1951 and 1955 they had their children Laura and Philip. In 1952 she returned to Paris. Her first paintings were created in 1953. At first she worked as an action artist and from 1956 drew attention to herself with her shooting pictures, these were plaster reliefs with integrated paint bags, which she shot during the vernissage. In 1960 they divorced Mathews.

She died on May 21, 2002 at the age of 71 in the southern US state of California in San Diego , which is known for its mild Pacific climate. The doctors had recommended her to stay there for health reasons. She herself was of the opinion that after decades of working with the poisonous fumes that are produced when processing the plastic, she had suffered serious damage to the health of the respiratory tract. However, her underlying disease was selective immunoglobulin A deficiency . Her chronic bronchitis , extremely painful rheumatoid arthritis , thyroid disease , asthma and pneumonia can be explained by the severe immunoglobulin deficiency. Shortness of breath and repeated pneumonia occurred long before she started working with plastics. Later on, the toxic plastic fumes, inhalation of pigments, and secondhand smoke likely exacerbated the lung disease. In the last decade of her life, the immunoglobulin deficiency was suddenly no longer detectable.

Artistic development

In June 1961, Saint Phalle and Tinguely, together with Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, took part in a happening and concert entitled Variations II , orchestrated by the American composer John Cage and performed at the American embassy in Paris. While David Tudor was playing Cage's compositions on the piano, the artists created their works of art on stage during the art action in front of an audience.

From 1962 she received financial support from Alexander Iolas , he organized her exhibitions and introduced her to the circle of prominent artists. In 1962 she took part in the Dylaby exhibition in Amsterdam with Jean Tinguely . From 1965 onwards, the first “Nanas” - female figures with deliberately lush and round shapes - were created, initially made of wire and textiles. However, she soon changed her technique and worked primarily with polyester , a material that is preferred in boat building, among other things. In 1965 the 2 meter high Lili ou Tony was created for the Peter Stuyvesant cigarette factory in Zevenaar .

In 1966 she installed at the request of the director Pontus Hultén (with the assistance of her later second husband Jean Tinguely, whom she had met in 1955) and Sweden Per Olof Ultvedt in Stockholm's Moderna Museet , a 29-meter long reclining sculpture named Hon ( Swedish : "they “), Which could be entered through the vagina and inside which there was a bar and a cinema, among other things. The Nanas were painted with pure bright colors.

In 1968 Niki de Saint Phalle first took part in an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Further exhibitions followed in 1969 in Munich and Hanover and in 1970 in Paris, 1971 in Amsterdam, Stockholm, Rome and New York. In 1979 she began in Tuscany in Capalbio , south of Grosseto , the construction of the Giardino dei Tarocchi . This Tarot Garden was opened to the public in 1998. Even better known is the construction of the Stravinsky Fountain in front of the Center Pompidou in Paris, which began in 1982 and which she designed together with Jean Tinguely.

Niki de Saint Phalle was one of the founding exhibitors at the Bundeskunsthalle in Bonn . From June to November 1992 she exhibited over 20 large sculptures, some of which were accessible, on the roof garden there. In 1999, Niki de Saint Phalle took on the task of designing the caves in the Great Garden in Hanover-Herrenhausen , which have been open to visitors since 2003. Her work “L'ange protecteur” (“ Guardian Angel ”, floating female figure) is located in the hall of Zurich's main train station .

Since 2008 some of her works have been exhibited in the museum FLUXUS + in Potsdam.

Her victorious design for the redesign of the Hamburger Spielbudenplatz could no longer be realized because of her death.


  • On November 17, 2000 she was made an honorary citizen of the city of Hanover. On this occasion, on November 19, 2000, she bequeathed over 400 of her works to the Sprengel Museum in Hanover. The planned extension to the museum should enable a permanent exhibition of their works.
  • In 2002 the Passerelle shopping arcade in downtown Hanover was renamed Niki-de-Saint-Phalle-Promenade .
  • In 2014 she was honored with a Google Doodle on October 29th on the occasion of her 84th birthday .


Radio plays

The radio play author and director Barbara Meerkötter developed the radio play Big Girl Now! Klappe 1–16 for Niki de Saint Phalle , which associatively and impulsively connects Niki's life with the film Un rêve plus long que la nuit (Eng. A dream - longer than the night or Camélia and the dragon ). The original broadcast took place on March 15, 2013 at RBB Kulturradio .



  • Monika Becker: Niki de Saint Phalle - Unleash strong femininity. The biography , List, Munich 2005, ISBN 3-548-60574-5
  • Renate Berger: Between Life and Death, To the mother image with Niki de St. Phalle , Ulrike Rosenbach, Mary Kelly and Annegret Soltau. In: Renate Möhrmann (Hrsg.): Verklärt, Verkitscht, forgotten, The mother as aesthetic figure , Metzler, Stuttgart, Weimar 1996, ISBN 3-476-01302-2 , pp. 354–371
  • Ursula Bode, Niki de Saint Phalle. La Grotte , published by the state capital, Department of Environment and Urban Greenery, Sprengel-Museum Hannover , Hatje Cantz, Ostfildern 2003, ISBN 3-7757-1308-5
  • Georg Franzen: Mythical archetypes in the art of Niki de Saint Phalle . In: D. Klein and H. Weyerstrass (eds.). Young today . Pp. 44-47. Publisher Dieter Klein, Brühl 2009
  • Pontus Hultén , Niki de Saint Phalle, Michel de Grèce, Ulrich Krempel, Yoko Masuda, Janice Parente and Pierre Restany: Niki de Saint Phalle. Monograph. Pictures, shooting pictures, assemblages, reliefs. 1949-2000 . Benteli Verlag, Bern 2001, ISBN 3-7165-1258-3
  • Ulrich Krempel u. Andres Pardey (Ed.): Niki & Jean. L'art et l'amour. Prestel, Munich 2005, ISBN 3-7913-3534-0
  • Ulrich Krempel: Nouveau Réalisme. Revolution of the everyday , Hatje Cantz, Ostfildern 2007, ISBN 978-3-7757-2058-8
  • Ulrich Krempel: Niki's world. Prestel, Munich 2003, ISBN 3-7913-2946-4 .
  • Der Kunst-Brockhaus , Vol. 2: L – Z , Wiesbaden: Brockhaus , p. 390
  • Isabel Siben (eds.): Niki and Jean: Posters. Prestel, Munich 2005, ISBN 3-7913-3404-2
  • Niki de Saint Phalle: Pictures - Figures - Fantastic Gardens. Prestel, Munich 1997, ISBN 3-7913-1820-9
  • Hugo Thielen : Saint Phalle, Niki de. In: Klaus Mlynek, Waldemar R. Röhrbein (eds.) U. a .: City Lexicon Hanover . From the beginning to the present. Schlütersche, Hannover 2009, ISBN 978-3-89993-662-9 , p. 534.
  • Charlotte Ueckert : Niki de Saint Phalle: Magician of round women. A portrait , PHILO & PhiloFineArts, Hamburg 2007, ISBN 978-3-86572-540-0
  • Ludwig Zerull : Art without a roof. Sculptures and objects in the cityscape of Hanover , Ed. Libri Artis, Schäfer, Hannover 1992, ISBN 3-88746-278-5 , pp. 34f., 96f.
  • Niki de Saint Phalle: Harry and Me - 1950–1960 - The Family Years, Benteli, Bern / Zurich 2006, ISBN 978-3-7165-1457-3

Web links

Commons : Niki de Saint Phalle  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Delia Gaze: Concise Dictionary of Women Artists . Ed .: Taylor & Francis. Fitzroy Dearborn Publ, 2001, ISBN 978-1-57958-335-4 , pp. 596 (English, [accessed December 13, 2016]).
  2. ^ Niki de Saint Phalle: Mon secret . Editions de La Différence, 2010, ISBN 978-2-7291-1903-4 (French, [accessed December 13, 2016]).
  3. a b Famous guests in Bern. Niki de Saint Phalle 1930 - 2001 Catherine Marie-Agnès Fal de Saint Phalle ( Memento from January 16, 2003 in the Internet Archive )
  4. a b Catalog for the exhibition Niki de Saint Phalle, Pictures - Figures - Fantastic Gardens in the art gallery of the Hypo-Kulturstiftung in Munich from March 26 to June 21, 1987, published by Carla Schulz – Hoffmann with contributions by Pierre Descargues, Pontus Hulten , Pierre Restany, Danie Spoerri, Jean Tinguely and Niki de Saint Phalle.
  5. Biography., accessed March 21, 2016 .
  6. Source: Johanna Di Blasi: "She had no guardian angel". Niki de Saint Phalle nurtured the myth that she sacrificed her health to art - her doctors saw it differently. In Hannoversche Allgemeine Zeitung No. 23 of January 27, 2012. Diagnosis by the rheumatologist Henning Zeidler , professor emeritus at the Hannover Medical School .
  7. See the article on the Combine Paintings by Rauschenberg.
  8. ^ Nicole L. Woods: Pop Gun Art: Niki de Saint Phalle and the Operatic Multiple . Living Collections Catalog. Walker Art Center, Minneapolis 2015. [1]
  9. Niki de Saint Phalle ( Memento of October 13, 2007 in the Internet Archive )
  10. ^ Art in Zurich Main Station , accessed April 15, 2014
  11. Archived copy ( memento of March 5, 2013 in the Internet Archive ) Information on the donation on the museum website
  12. Niki de Saint Phalle and the red fig leaves. In: October 29, 2014, accessed March 14, 2018 .
  13. Niki de Saint Phalle on the homepage of Peter Schamoni