During a trip to Spain Niki de Saint Phalle discovers the work of Antoni Gaudí and will be strongly influenced by it; in particular, the Parc Güell in Barcelona has great importance in her decision to build her sculpture garden, also inspiring her to make different materials and found objects the main elements of her art.


Niki visits together with Jean Tinguely the Palais idéal by Ferdinand Cheval; he, a postman, had built a palace in Hauterives (Drôme, central France) following the images of his naive imagination. Later, Tinguely will bring the Nouveaux Réalistes to the headquarters to learn about the construction of Cheval.


Niki and Jean Tinguely take a trip to California; they visit the Watts Towers by Simon Rodia in South Los Angeles.


Niki works together with others on the project Hon, on behalf of the Moderna Museet in Stockholm. The giant sculpture causes a stir around the world, intensifying Niki's desire to create his own sculpture garden. In Stockholm Niki and Jean Tinguely met the young Swiss artist Rico Weber, who would be their assistant and colleague for many years, playing an important role in the creation of the Tarot Garden.





Niki starts the collaboration with the polyester work specialist Haligon, who will produce large format sculptures and multiples for her.


In June Niki created the model for the Fountain-of-Nana which in 1990 was enlarged and in March 1993 found its place in the Tarot Garden.

After being admitted to hospital for a lung abscess, caused by many years of working with polyester, Niki stayed in St. Moritz for a period of convalescence. There she met Marella Caracciolo Agnelli again who in 1950 ca. he met her in New York. Niki expresses to her friend her dream of creating a sculpture garden which should be based on the symbolism of tarot cards. Subsequently, Marella's brothers, Carlo and Nicola Caracciolo, will provide her with land on their property in Garvicchio in Tuscany where she can realize her dream. The Tarot Garden project will occupy Niki's thought and creative force for twenty years.


Niki returns to the Swiss mountains for a rather long period where he works on the design of his sculpture garden; he conceives as figures that should populate him as figurative expressions of symbols, hints and energies of the tarot.

In 1977 Ricardo Menon became her assistant for the next ten years.

Palais Idéal du Facteur Cheval, 31 December 1961 (Larry Rivers, Clarice Rivers, John Ashbery, Niki de Saint Phalle, Jean Larcade)Photo: © unknown Niki de Saint Phalle in Park Guëll, Barcelona, 1955. Photo: © unknown




Niki starts work on her Tarot Garden on the land owned by Carlo and Nicola Caracciolo, in Garavicchio in southern Tuscany. He developed the first models which were based on the Major Arcana of the Tarot and anticipated the mega-sculptures of his garden.

In Paris he met Pierre Marie Lejeune in whose studio-shop his prints and sculptures were produced; she assigns him the task of painting the sculptures for the Strawinsky fountain in Paris together with her.


Niki de Saint Phalle spends most of her time in Tuscany. The land will be cleared and cleared, and foundations will be laid. For the next ten years Niki will be mainly involved in the construction of her garden, obtaining the help of numerous of her friends and followers.

Ugo Celletti, a postman, began working for the Tarot Garden in 1979; and, as Niki writes, “he first laid out stone paths, then applied wire nets to the iron buildings that had been sprayed with cement. Some time later Ugo asked me to test his ability to cover the sculptures with glass tiles for mirrors, proving himself to be a true poet in this type of mosaic". Over time many local inhabitants worked for the Garden; in addition to those named here who will make notable contributions, there will be other helpers of both sexes.

The Gimpel & Weitzenhoffer Gallery in New York organizes an exhibition with models and photographs of Niki's architectural projects; the traveling exhibition stops in numerous American cities.


In April Niki begins to build her first architectural sculptures for the Tarot Garden, the Papessa and the Magician: first the Papessa : the first to represent female creativity and strength. Between 1980 and 1982 Jean Tinguely and his Swiss team – Rico Weber and Seppi Imhof – welded the iron constructions for this first group of works of which theEmpress (the Sphinx).

Pierre Marie Lejeune visits the Tarot Garden for the first time. Niki comes up with the idea of covering his works with ceramic and glass mosaic tiles for mirrors. Pierre Marie has collaborated with her for years. During his travels through Poland, Czechoslovakia, France, Germany, Belgium, Italy and the United States he is always looking for new materials and techniques. He has certain elements produced according to Niki's instructions; he develops a technique for covering sculptures with mosaics; he appoints his wife Isabelle Dunoyer de Segonzac to manage the mosaic workshop. Niki gives him carte blanche to design benches, furniture and other elements for the Garden.

Niki de Saint Phalle and Jean Tinguely in the place where the Tarot Garden will be built, circa 1979. Photo: © Laurent Condominas Welding of the iron framework Photo: Rico Weber / © Etat de Friborg Suisse / Musée d'art et d'histoire Friborg Suisse




Niki rents a small house near the Tarot Garden; She hires staff from the surrounding farms who will help her carry out this enormous undertaking of hers. The success of the project is decisively due to her many years of work. The Tarot Garden continues to grow.

Dutch artist Dok van Winsen meets Niki in Amsterdam and later collaborates with Jean Tinguely (and Niki) on the sculpture Cyclops. At the end of 1981 he arrived in Garavicchio for the first time.


Dok van Winsen joins the team and takes on Tinguely's work: welding the iron constructions and sculptures. “Thanks to the 'medieval' education of Jean Tinguely and Dok van Winsen, the enlargement of my models works perfectly,” writes Niki. “All the armatures of the monumental sculptures are formed from iron bars and welded thanks to the muscular strength of the team.”


Tonino Urtis also joins the Team, to lend a hand to Dok van Winsen in the welding work of the first works of Jean and his Swiss team: the Papessa, the Magician, TheEmperor, and equally the Sun and theTree of LifeAll these sculptures arise at the same time, as Niki loves to work on multiple projects simultaneously. At the end of the year the works reached a level that allowed the cement applications to be carried out.

On behalf of the Jaqueline Cochran Company Niki creates a perfume that bears her name; sales are used in part to finance the Tarot Garden. To contain the perfume she creates a bottle in gold and blue and above it, like a knob, two tangled colored glass snakes.

Niki de Saint Phalle fell ill with rheumatic arthritis and would suffer from it until the end of her life.

Iron armor of The Empress, The Magician, and The High Priestess. Photo: © Giulio Pietromarchi Welding of the armor The Empress . Photo: Rico Weber / © Etat de Friborg Suisse / Musée d'art et d'histoire Friborg Suisse Team members with the crane preparing to lift The Sun. Photo: © unknown




Niki moves into the monumental sculpture ofEmpress which has the shape of a sphinx and will serve as an atelier and home for the next seven years, a period in which he works intensely on finishing the Garden. He decides to use ceramic tiles alongside glass tiles for mirrors and glass to cover the sculptures. Her friend and assistant Ricardo Menon introduces her to Venera Finocchiaro, a ceramist teacher from Rome. “Venera was to become the ceramist of the Garden, she was completely immersing herself in her mono”, writes Niki. “She lived in the Garden and satisfied my desire to create brand new objects that had never existed before in ceramic art. Her beautiful works speak for themselves”.

Dok van Winsen helped by Tonino Urtis welds the second group of architectural sculptures: the Castle TheEmperor), la Tower, the Pope, Justice Justice (with the exception of the arms of the scales that Urtis later produces in iron) and the chapel inside which theHanged Man. After Tinguely suffers a heart attack, Niki solemnly promises to have a small chapel built in his honor if he recovers; so that the Hanged Man will be placed inTree of Life. Dok van Winsen begins work on the Pope (said by Niki to be “Jean's favorite sculpture in the whole Garden”) which Tinguely will then complete.

Once the welding work has been completed, the sculptures will be covered with a second layer of iron on which two layers of wire mesh will be applied. As soon as the iron construction of the architectural sculptures was completed, De Villa, a specialized company from Ventimiglia, was commissioned to carry out the reinforced concrete works. De Villa applies a first layer of coating. Afterwards the interior of theEmpress it will have a covering of insulating material and a metal mesh. Above a layer of tar to protect theEmpress from the rain De Villa applies a final layer of white cement.

In the Garden the Strength (the Dragon) with iron and cement and will then be covered with a mosaic. Dok van Winsen begins welding work and returns to this sculpture several times, depending on Niki's changing ideas about mosaic cladding. In 1989 the Force sculpture will be completed.

Niki creates a model for the Moon (n. XVIII).

Between 1983 and 1984 Tonino Urtis created the first mosaic for the hand of Magician.

Gérard Haligon and Pierre Marie Lejeune painted the Sun in the summer of 1983; this is Pierre Marie's first work in the Garden. Between 1983 and 1995 he visited the Tarot Garden four or five times a year and stayed there for a week each time; between 1995 and 2002 his visits became less frequent.

Crew members preparing to spray concrete, December 1982. Photo: © unknown Iron and concrete armor of the interior of The Empress , 1983. Photo: © Giulio Pietromarchi The Empress with cement and tar layer. Photo: © Dok van Winsen




Marco Iacotonio begins his activity in the Garden by giving the concrete the finishing touches. Between 1984 and 1987 Niki spent most of his time in the Tarot Garden; a large number of his major works are already in an advanced state of completion.

Pierre Marie Lejeune and Gérard Haligon create the model of the snake at the foot of the Papessa and they produced the first ceramics and applied them with clay directly onto the concrete; the ceramics come from the production of Venera Finocchiaro.

In September Niki creates the models for the Temperance (n. XIV) and for the Death (n. XIII) so shortly after for the Choice (The Lovers) (n. VI). All three were then cast in polyester by Robert Haligon and his sons Gérard and Olivier.

Per le sculture architettoniche ancora non completati (l’Emperor, Tower, the Pope, Justice) the concrete work begins. Niki's team is now familiar with the working techniques, working from morning to night. You buy a small electric cooking oven. Ceramic tiles produced on site will be applied around the High Priestess's mouth. The Wizard's eyes and face are made of pieces of mirror glass. For the firing, Toni van Winsen, Dok's wife, is responsible first, and then Venera Finocchiaro who together with Niki creates all the ceramics still present in the Garden. Two more cooking ovens are purchased; therefore it can rightly be said that all the ceramics were produced on site.

The work for the mosaic with glass tiles for mirrors for the exterior of the Tower began between 1984-1985.



At the same time the large snake of the Papessa e il viso del Magician.

Works based on Niki's tarot cards are exhibited at the Gimpel Fils galleries in London and Gimpel & Weitzenhoffer in New York.


Jean Tinguely builds the machinery for the Tower of Babel: the welded iron sculpture (300 x 400 cm) named Eos is equipped with an electric motor, symbolizing the wrath of God. Other machines created by Tinguely for the Tarot Garden are the Fountain of Fortune (a variant of the Wheel of Fortune), a welded iron sculpture in 1988 with an electric motor in the water basin in front of the High Priestess, and the Injustice > – a welded sculpture composed of iron, found objects, lamadari and electric motors that will be placed inside the Justice and protected by a gigantic padlock (n. VII). The access road bears the sign "Jean Tinguely has unjustly imprisoned injustice within justice and has firmly closed the door."

After creating the models in 1984, the Temperance in February and the Scelta (the Lovers) in March were cast in polyester, a job carried out by Robert Haligon & Fils. In April the model for the Devil is produced.

1985 e 1986 cominciano il lavori per i mosaici in vetro per specchi e di ceramica per l’Imperatice (capelli in mosaico di vetro per specchi blu), la Papessa, Fontana (scala esterna), il Magician (viso e scalini) e il Pope (Primi mosaici).

The High Priestess La Papessa. Photo: © Dok van Winsen Team members apply mirror mosaic on The Tower of Babel. Photo: © Giulio Pietromarchi Jean Tinguely works on the welds The Wheel of Fortune. Photo: © Unknown




Niki de saint Phalle spends almost the entire year in the Tarot Garden; further sculptures are placed there. Ricardo Menon introduces Marcelo Zitelli to Niki; he becomes his assistant and important collaborator. The glass mosaic mosaic intended for the exterior of the Tower will be completed between 1986-1987.

Claudia Celletti begins her work in the Tarot Garden.

Between 1987 and 1993, years in which Niki again spent more time in Paris, he created many smaller works for his Garden, including Death, the Hermita , the Fool, the Devil, the Chariot, the Hanged Man, the Oracle em>, the Sage, the World, the Star, the Conversation, the Seat of Serpents . In March Niki developed a larger version (300 cm) of the Luna (no. XVIII) based on the 1983 model. Later still considered too small, between 1992-1993 it will be replaced by an even larger format (500 cm).

The Pope and Justice were completed between 1987-1988.

Niki asks Pierre Marie Lejeune to build benches around the fountain at the feet of the Empress (Sphinx). He proposes to create a small amphitheater with seats in the rock itself; and with the help of the hardworking team members this project will be implemented.

The Bonnier Gallery in Geneva exhibits “Latest works” by Niki de Saint Phalle, including limited editions of works based on the sculptures of the Tarot Garden: colored plastics and bas-reliefs in polyester, ceramic and glass, nemerated serigraphs as well as figurative and colored vases in polyester. The proceeds are used to finance the construction of the Tarot Garden.

Modelli della Luna e La Scelta Gli Innamorati all’interno L’Imperatrice . Foto: © Sconosciuto Niki de Saint Phalle e Jean Tinguely con Le Monde a La Commanderie, Francia. Foto: © Laurent Condominas Membri della squadra che applicano gli specchietti a mosaico Il Papa, Novembre 1986. Foto: © Giulio Pietromarchi




Based on the model created in September 1984, in January Niki produced the sculpture of Death (n. XIII) together with his assistant Marcelo Zitelli. The Hermit (n. IX) will be created in clay in June. Both figures will then be cast by Haligon in polyester.

The Magician/em> (n. I) and the High Priestess (n. II) were completed between 1988-1989. The work is now concentrated on the Empress (n. III) and, later on the Emperor (n. IV).

Living in the "Womb of his Mother" or inside the Empress (Sphinx) Niki considers it too conditioning a reason, so he builds a studio in a secluded place in the Garden in New York loft style. 1988 she spent part of her time there, before moving there permanently.


Alessia Celletti begins working in the Tarot Garden.

Ricardo Menon dies of AIDS; Niki is very affected by his death. In memory of Ricardo she models the sculpture The Cat, to have an eternal memory of him within the Garden. In those years Niki lost many friends, all struck down by AIDS.

When he dedicates himself to his works, the experiences in the Tarot Garden are decisive for Niki and his way of dealing with materials, in particular with multicolored mosaics of glass mosaic tiles for mirrors and ceramics. In January 1989 you designed the World (n. XXI) which Haligon & Fils then made in polyester; a mosaic version will be placed in the Tarot Garden. Of the Devil model, made in April 1985 (n. XV), Niki developed a larger version in February. In August and November in Paris he created, together with his assistant Marcelo Zitelli, the models of the Folle (n. 0) and the Impiccato (n. XII) in clay.

At Niki's suggestion Pierre Marie Lejeune builds a concrete path which he decorates with hieroglyphs and other signs and symbols.

Strength (the Dragon) is finished.

Niki de Saint Phalle and Venera Finocchiaro inside the studio. Photo: © Laurent Condominas Niki de Saint Phalle paints Chat de Ricardo, 1989. Photo: © Laurent Condominas Niki de Saint Phalle carving the concrete course. Photo: © Laurent Condominas




In September, according to the model of June 1974, an enlarged version of the Fontana-di-Nana was born. The Hanged Man (n. XII) will be installed in November inside the Tree of Life; in the same month the Devil (n. XV) will be positioned.

Between the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s Niki spent less and less time in the Garden. However, the same is developing, and at the same time the need for maintenance of the system and of the individual sculptures is increasing. The restoration of the sculptures began between 1992-1993; new gluing techniques are used (using silicone for glass pieces and silicone for mirrors). Meanwhile, Niki works to find a legal basis for the Garden project.


In August Jean Tinguely dies in Bern.

Niki's health conditions worsened, but she nevertheless worked to found a Tinguely Museum based in Basel; there the friendship with Mario Botta was born.

In November the Fool (n. 0) will be placed in the Garden. As if in a wandering he had already changed places several times and will do so in the future too...



A new and larger (500 cm) version of the Moon (no. XVIII) will be modeled.


In March the Fontana Plate (i.e. Fontana-di-Nana) will be placed in the Tarot Garden, in June the Moon (n. XVIII).


For health reasons Niki moved to La Jolla, California, where she will live for the next eight years. She organizes her lei atelier so as to be able to work stone, glass and mirror glass, materials which instead of colors acquire ever greater importance in the creation of her sculptures. Pierre Marie Lejeune travels to California several times in search of suitable materials and to set up a mosaic workshop there.


Giampiero Ottavi begins his work as a gardener in the Tarot Garden. Pierre Marie Lejeune designs and creates iron and glass furniture. Between 1995 and 1996, almost all the mosaics for the sculptures were completed.

Pallas Athéna e Thoëris outside the studio, 1990. Photo: © Laurent Condominas Team working on tea floor The Emperor. Photo: © Unknown Mario Botta and Niki de Saint Phalle in his studio in La Jolla 1994. Photo: © Julie Bubar




The “Anti-Boutique”, designed by Pierre Marie Lejeune, as well as the furnishings, will be installed by him with the help of the team. On August 4, 1997, the “Il Giardino dei Tarocchi” Foundation was founded in Rome.

In 1997 Stefano Mancini became the administrator of the Tarot Garden, succeeding Gigi Pecorano, previously responsible for administrative matters. Mario Botta designs the entrance pavilion to the Garden. “I asked my friend, architect Mario Botta, to create the entrance to the Tarot Garden in contrast to the interior of the Garden,” Niki writes. “Mario built a thick fortress-like enclosure wall, which had a 'masculine' appearance, using beautiful local stone, and in this way the outside and inside were clearly distinct. For me, Mario's wall is a protection like the dragon who is the guardian of the treasure in fairy tales." The Tarot Garden, which had already attracted visitors in the past, will be officially inaugurated on 15 May 1998 for the general public.


Around 2000 Tonino Urtis undertook two trips to the United States to teach ceramic techniques to Niki's new team in Southern California, necessary for his latest project The Magic Circle of Queen Califia.


Fabio Mancini begins his work in the Tarot Garden; Massimo Menchetti joined him in 2004.

Despite having moved to the United States, Niki has not abandoned her Tarot Garden. She is designing a labyrinth, for which a plot of land will have to be cleared and metal poles planted there. On May 21, 2002, Niki de Saint Phalle died at the age of 71 in La Jolla, California. According to her last wishes, the Tarot Garden design must end at the time of her death.

On 8 July 2002 the “Il Giardino dei Tarocchi” Foundation will be officially recognized by the Tuscany Region.

Construction outside the entrance designed by Mario Botta. Photo: ©unknown Overview of the Tarot Garden. Photo: © Laurent Condominas