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Discover the world of Niki de Saint Phalle's "Nanas".

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Discover the world of Niki de Saint Phalle's "Nanas" on this page. These dolls exude a zest for life and freedom and their differing postures challenge the laws of anatomy and gravity.

Discover the world of Niki de Saint Phalle's "Nanas" on this page. These dolls exude a zest for life and freedom and their differing postures challenge the laws of anatomy and gravity.

Introducing Niki de Saint Phalle's "Nanas" is a good opportunity for your children to "warm up" their fingers and explore their imagination... By bringing their own "Nana" to life, children will become aware of their own body and the volume it takes up in space. The gesture work and the link with personal or collective creation is an invitation to really work together !




Historical period: the twentieth century

Niki de Saint Phalle, born on 29 October, 1930 in Neuilly sur Seine, (France) and who died on 21 May, 2002 in La Jolla (San Diego County) California (USA) was a French artist, painter, sculptor and filmmaker. She was first a model then a mother before becoming a self-taught artist. She had no formal training in art but was stimulated by prolific artistic exchanges with her elders and contemporaries and was inspired by several different movements. A large number of museums around the world own works by Niki de Saint Phalle.



Contexte et analye e l'œuvre

Background and analysis of the work



The self-taught artist, Niki de Saint Phalle began her career as a painter in 1952.

Nearly 10 years later, she held her first exhibition and invited visitors to shoot at pockets of paint that exploded all over the plaster structures. This was real "performance art" in the artistic sense of the term which, for Niki de Saint Phalle, was above all a means of releasing all the violence that had accumulated since childhood, especially in regard to an incestuous father.

The same year, Niki de Saint Phalle was admitted into the circle of "New Realists", an artistic movement portraying consumer society and daily life without magnifying them.

It includes artists like César, Mimmo Rotella, Christo, Yves Klein and Jean Tinguely, who Niki de Saint Phalle later married.

After joining this group, she created ex-votos (offerings made to a deity to request something or in thanks for the request's fulfilment) and then her famous "Nanas", women who are as round as they are colourful in wire, paper mache and polyester.


Her other major works:

The Igor Stravinsky Fountain, installed in front of the Beaubourg Museum in Paris,

The Tarot Garden in Capalbio in Tuscany

The Méta-Tinguelys in memory of her husband.


Analysis of her work

1. Form

Niki de Saint Phalle's "Nanas" are very large-scale dolls that are highly colourful and represent women with well-rounded forms. They are eyeless and often have unexpected stances, launching a real challenge to the laws of anatomy, weight and gravity.

2. Technique

Niki de Saint Phalle made her "Nanas" by first creating a wire mesh structure that she covered in papier mâché. She then used polyester resin and painted them black and white or in bright colours. She also clothed her "Nanas" with patchwork or woollen threads.

3. Meaning

As a true feminist rebelling against the patriarchy and women's assigned role of homemakers, Niki de Saint Phalle created models that represented a certain joie de vivre and liberty. Inspired by a drawing of one of her pregnant friends, Niki de Saint Phalle's "Nanas" have become authentic feminine symbols, and her most recognisable works.

4. Use

Niki de Saint Phalle's "Nana" sculptures are designed to liberate women from the straitjacket of 1960s' society.


1 - Educational objectives: children from 2 to 6 years old


Matériels :



  • Improve fine motor skills
  • Learn figure work


Give the children large sheets of white paper (or a roll of paper 50 cm wide). Pass several pictures of Niki de Saint Phalle's sculptures around the classroom. Suggest that your junior students create their own "Nana", by drawing the figure of a large Nana in pencil. Then invite them to paint the inside of their Nana in a solid color, for example a beautiful royal blue.

Finally, suggest that the children dress their "Nana" using pieces of cut up paper, then stick their "Nana" on a large sheet of coloured paper.

You can build on the experience by making large "Nanas" in collaboration with each other!


2 - Educational objectives: children from 7 to 11 years


Matériels :

My objectives:

- Learn about the notions of dimension and depth


Pass around two different representations of Niki de Saint Phalle's "Nanas"; both reproductions of her paintings (such as Volleyball or Nana Power) and photos of her sculptures.

Ask the children to discuss the fundamental difference between the two types of elements, namely the rendering of volume. The painting is in two dimensions, the sculpture in three. Go over the ways that help show volume in the photo of the sculpture. The addition of a background, the play of light and shade that shows that this is the photo of a three-dimensional work. The angle the photo was shot from also contributes to this perception. Then explain to the children that you can also give the impression of volume using foam board and paper.


Give each child a schoolyard photograph. This will be used as a background for what they are going to make.

Ask them to draw a "Nana" in pencil on a sheet of paper and then to cut out the outline. Then ask them to dress their "Nana" using bits of cut out paper and encourage them to add height to the different bits of her outfit using small squares of foam board.

Then ask the children to install their sculpture by sticking their "Nana" on the photo of the schoolyard.


Tip :

Did this page inspire you? Then why not continue the adventure! Canson invites you to show of your pupil's work(s) by sharing them with our community. It doesn't matter what the subject is, we'll be really happy to see how creative you are! If you're interested, just contact us using our contact form.

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