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It is as if a psychedelic bomb had exploded in the most picturesque part of Tuscany.

When Saint Phalle entered the asylum, in the early nineteen-fifties, she was a twenty-two-year-old wife, mother, erstwhile fashion model, and lapsed French aristocrat.

Outside the Centre Georges Pompidou, in Paris, her work is on permanent display in the giddy “Stravinsky Fountain”: a group of her sculptures—red lips, rainbow-colored birds, mermaids—facing off with the Swiss artist Jean Tinguely’s kinetic iron machines, all spewing water at one other.


At first, the monsters looked like massive, misshapen iron cages emerging from the Tuscan countryside. Plaster was spread over the metal, and the monsters became looming, creamy ghosts.“There was terrible trouble when we left a Nazi attic in the house Mother had rented,” she wrote.“The owners discovered what we had been doing there, and thought that mother had a Nazi spy ring.Art, she believed, returned her to sanity, and she wanted to make a monumental sculpture garden that would, in turn, heal others.

It would be in the fanciful style of Antoni Gaudí’s Park Güell, in Barcelona, but each structure would represent a mystical figure from the tarot deck.

Her father, André, had established himself as a banker, and the Saint Phalles lived well, if not as grandly as their ancestors.



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