Niki de Saint Phalle was born Catherine-Marie-Agnès Fal de Saint Phalle in Neuilly-sur-Seine, Hauts-de-Seine, near Paris, France, in 1930. After the Great Depression, her family moved to the United States in 1933. After being dismissed from the all-girls Brearley School in New York City for painting the fig leaves on the school statues red, she attended Oldfields School in Glencoe, Maryland, graduating in 1947. As a teenager, she was a fashion model, appearing on several magazine covers.

In the early 1960s, the self-taught artist gained notoriety for her "shooting paintings," created by firing a .22-caliber rifle at a board that contained bags of paint buried under the plaster surface. Later that decade, she explored different roles of women in society through a series of life-size dolls made of papier-mâché, yarn, and cloth, in sculptures she called "Nanas," French slang for "chicks" or "dames."

In 1998, de Saint Phalle realized her lifelong dream with the opening of the Tarot Garden in Tuscany, Italy. She died in 2002 of emphysema. Her work is found in museums, private collections and public spaces around the world, including the Niki Museum in Nasu, Japan; Queen Califia's Magic Circle, a sculpture garden in Escondido, California; The Museum of Modern Art in Stockholm, Sweden; the Zurich train station; and the Stravinsky Fountain in Paris.