Niki de Saint Phalle was born Catherine-Marie-Agnès-Brandon Fal de Saint Phalle in France in 1930 to an upper-class Franco-American family. They lost their wealth during the Great Depression and moved to the United States in 1933. Saint Phalle attended the Brearley School in New York City until she was expelled for defacing statues on the school’s campus (she painted the fig leaves on nude figures an offending red). She was later sent to the Oldfields School in Maryland and graduated in 1947. After school, she modeled for Vogue and Life magazine, married a childhood friend when she was 18 and became a mother two years later.
In 1952 Saint Phalle and her husband moved back to Paris, where he studied music and she studied theater. The following year, after a period of intensive travel throughout Europe, she suffered a nervous breakdown and was hospitalized; she took up painting to help with her recovery. In 1955 the family again moved, this time to Mallorca and Saint Phalle gave birth to her second child. While in Mallorca, she was exposed to the architecture of Antonio Gaudí, who would become a major influence for the imaginative style and ambitious scale of her work.
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