Niki de Saint Phalle (1930-2002), born at Neuilly-sur-Seine in France, grew up in New York, where her parents lived. While still very young she worked as a model for leading American magazines and began to study music.
In 1952, she moved to Paris with Harry Matthews, her husband and the father of her two children, and began to paint. During a visit to Barcelona she discovered Gaudi’s architecture, which was to have a lasting influence on her art.
In 1956, she held her first exhibition of paintings at St Gall in Switzerland. In 1960, she met the sculptor Jean Tinguely, with whom she maintained a close personal and professional relationship until his death in 1991. She acquired early fame in the years that followed for provocative works like her “surprise paintings”, made of plaster blisters full of vivid colours which she burst by firing at them with a rifle. During the same period she joined the New Realists, a group of artists whose other members included Yves Klein, Arman, Christo and Tinguely.
Between 1965 and 1970 she created and exhibited her first “Nanas”, opulent, polychrome female shapes whose curves challenged the fashion for beanpole women. Exhibited in New York, Stockholm and Montreal among other places, they became the emblems of her powerfully original work as a sculptor. Over time these buxom “Nanas”, genesis of her future work, gave birth to a fascinating array of extravagantly fanciful creatures, sometimes anthropomorphic, often gigantic and always violently coloured, including the Cyclop at Milly-la-Forêt, the Golem in Jerusalem and the Tarot Garden in Tuscany. In 1982, with Jean Tinguely, she created the celebrated Stravinsky Fountain near the Pompidou Centre in Paris, which two years earlier had hosted a retrospective of her work. The world-famous artist now lives in San Diego (USA) and, with the architect Mario Botta, has conceived a monumental Noah’s Ark for the year 2000.
From the sun to the plate, taking in a sensual mouth and an outstretched hand, Niki de Saint Phalle’s composition for Mouton is a sparkling, festive allegory of the pleasures of the table. And then, running across the painting, there is the “Niki-object”, springing from a story as old as the world itself: the serpent tempter. But instead of the traditional apple, this serpent, more wine-loving than malign, is offering Eve a bottle … of Mouton Rothschild 1997 no doubt!