Niki de Saint Phalle - Editions & Works on Paper New York Tuesday, October 24, 2023 | Phillips

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  • “Why the nanas? Well, first because I am one myself. Because my work is very personal and I try to express what I feel. It is the theme that touches me most closely. Since women are oppressed in today’s society I have tried, in my own personal way, to contribute to the Women’s Liberation Movement.”
    —Niki de Saint Phalle

    Niki de Saint Phalle, whose innovative work in utilitarian sculpture redefined an entire genre of contemporary art, was known as “the beauty who challenged the beast of public taste.”1 Best known for her monumental public works, de Saint Phalle’s unconventional approach to sculpture cemented her place at the center of a male-dominated field, one that she continually challenged in the realms of gender archetypes and orthodoxy. Through her artistic explorations de Saint Phalle carefully approached and rejected the “accepted female role images such as passivity, withdrawal, shyness, and the willingness to play second fiddle, she directed a sharp criticism at the prejudiced images of male society. In her work she left behind the old female roles and formulated new ones and opportunities, thus anticipating the dialectics of the birth of a possible new world from the destruction of the old.”2


    Niki de Saint Phalle created her first Nana sculpture in 1964 after a visit with her friend, and wife of artist Larry Rivers, Clarice Rivers who was then pregnant with her first child. Nana, French slang for “chick”, became the vision of a modern representation of femininity and motherhood. Often posed in joyful and triumphant poses, these sculptures of voluptuous women took a variety of different forms over decades of work. Monumental Nanas have been installed in parks and museums all over the world from Central Park in New York to the Venice Biennale and were also used as a tool of artistic activism, with Black Rosy, or My Heart Belongs to Rosy (1965) representing the artist’s belief that all women are goddesses regardless of the color of their skin. In the present example, Dancing Couple Vase, we see the vibrant color and pattern – along with the undeniable joy – that has become synonymous with Nana imagery.

    “Working with Niki was always something intense. So whatever small thing, big thing, or personal thing it was intense and extraordinary.”
    —Robert Haligon

    In 1971, de Saint Phalle commissioned Robert Haligon to make molds of three of her sculptures, charting the course of a rich and long relationship with the Haligon family workshop outside of Paris, resulting in over 3000 works over the 25-year partnership. A business spanning four generations and steeped with tradition, Niki began to work with Robert Haligon and his family to produce both monumental sculptures and editioned works. “For the process of making editions, Saint Phalle created a sculpture in clay with which Robert could produce a mold and a prototype in plaster or resin. Saint Phalle painted the prototype that served as the sample piece for the reproduction of 8 to 12 more sculptures, in resin, with the same colors and design. It was important for her that the reproduction felt as though she herself made the piece.” It was Robert’s daughter, Marie Haligon, who was personally trained by the artist on how to paint her editioned sculptures to mimic her brushwork with accuracy and flair. While many of Niki’s early works were created with a matte finish, Robert suggested that she shift to a glossy finish to improve the durability of her outdoor works. Taken by the brilliance and shininess of her sculptures in the sun, she began to incorporate this fabrication in her editioned works as well. The relationship between the artist and workshop was one of great trust and admiration, resulting in a friendship that extended beyond the studio. The family continued their relationship with the artist even after her move to California and, following Niki de Saint Phalle’s death in 2002, the foundry remains the official restorer of Niki de Saint Phalle artworks.


    U. Krempel, “The Political Universe in the Art of Niki de Saint Phalle,”2001, p. 29

    2 Ibid

    • Provenance

      Jonathan Novak Gallery, Los Angeles
      Private Collection (acquired from the above 2001)
      Heather James Fine Art, Palm Desert, California
      Thomas B. Lemann, New Orleans (acquired from the above in 2022)
      Thence by descent to the present owners

Property from the Collection of Thomas B. Lemann


Dancing Couple Vase

Painted polyester resin vase multiple.
12 x 7 1/2 x 7 1/4 in. (30.5 x 19.1 x 18.4 cm)
Incised with signature, date and numbered 34/150 on the underside (there were also 25 artists proofs), with the foundry stamp Bernard Haligon on the underside.

Full Cataloguing

$8,000 - 12,000 

Sold for $7,620

Contact Specialist
212 940 1220

Editions & Works on Paper

New York Auction 24-26 October 2023