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Buddha, one of Niki de Saint Phalle's shimmery mosaic sculptures, courtesy of WikiCommons

The world’s most famous artists – from Henri Matisse to Jack Vettriano – have chosen to make Nice their home. In the second of a five-part blog series, we investigate what it is about this strip of sun-drenched coastline that inspired these great artists – and where they spent their time in the region. 

Born in 1930 to a French count and his American wife in the Parisian suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine, Niki de Saint Phalle spent much of her childhood in the United States. A precocious teen, she rocketed to fame as a model, gracing the covers of Life and Vogue magazines in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Saint Phalle went on to dabble in acting. But it was in 1953 that her life took a dramatic turn: she suffered a nervous breakdown while holidaying in the South of France. It was in Nice that Saint Phalle made the decision to abandon modelling and acting, turning to art instead. And although heavily influenced by Gaudí’s three-dimensional artworks, she quickly developed her own unique style.

Saint Phalle returned time and again to Nice. As an integral part of the Premier Festival du Nouveau Réalisme, Saint Phalle organised a live “shooting painting” (where bags of paint were attached to a canvas and shot at by artists and spectators) at Nice’s Abbaye de Roseland.

Saint Phalle is perhaps best known for her mosaic-style sculptures, such as Miles Davis outside of the Hôtel Negresco. The city held a special place in her heart. Not only can visitors take in her Le Monstre du Loch Ness on the terrace of the MAMAC, or Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain. She also donated close to 200 artworks to the museum, which can be viewed in the Salle Niki de Saint Phalle.

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