All is not as it seems in the Tarot Gar­den, located in Gar­avic­chio in south­ern Tus­cany.

Among the trees are weird and won­der­ful fig­ures: a woman with a tiny head, huge body and wild blue hair; another bizarre form with two heads, one on top of the other. These dis­torted humanoids are Niki de Saint Phalle’s per­sonal inter­pre­ta­tion of tarot card figures.

Her project for 22 mon­u­men­tal sculp­tures took shape as of 1978. The park opened offi­cially 20 years later, strongly influ­enced by Gaudi’s Parco Güell in Barcelona and the XVI cen­tury Parco dei Mostri  in Bomarzo cre­ated by Vicino Orsini.

Born into a rich French fam­ily, Niki de Saint Phalle (1930 — 2002) moved to the USA when she was a child after her father lost his busi­ness in the Wall Street crash of 1929. She attended var­i­ous schools, and was expelled from pres­ti­gious Brear­ley School in New York City after paint­ing the fig leaves on the school’s stat­ues bright red.

Niki should either have psy­chi­atric treat­ment or leave school
 Head­mistress of  Brearly School, NYC

De Saint Phalle was barely 18 when she appeared as a model on the cover of Life mag­a­zine. That same year she eloped with the writer Harry Math­ews and moved to Cam­bridge, Mass­a­chu­setts. While her hus­band stud­ied music at Har­vard, de Saint Phalle began to paint, exper­i­ment­ing with dif­fer­ent media and styles.

Together with their first child, the cou­ple moved to Paris in 1952 where de Saint Phalle met the Amer­i­can painter Hugh Weiss who became her friend and men­tor. He encour­aged her to con­tinue paint­ing in her self-taught style. In 1956 she met the Swiss artist Jean Tinguely, who later became her sec­ond hus­band and part­ner in build­ing the Tarot Gar­den.

The six­ties saw her as an impor­tant mem­ber of the avant-garde Nou­veaux Réal­istes group, work­ing along­side  Yves Klein, Arman, César, Tinguely, Daniel Spo­erri, Rauschen­ber and Pierre Restany.

The Tarot Gar­den, in the lush Tus­can coun­try­side, is undoubt­edly her great­est work. The land was donated by the wealthy Car­rac­ci­olo fam­ily, in par­tic­u­lar by Carlo and Nicola, broth­ers of her phil­an­thropist friend with a huge pas­sion for art Marella Agnelli. De Saint Phalle ded­i­cated more than 17 years of her life to cre­at­ing the giant fig­ures or Nanas as she affec­tion­ately called them. Like her other sculp­tures around the world, the works are made with steel and con­crete, and cov­ered with bril­liantly coloured glass, ceram­ics, mosaics and mirrors.

For a while she even lived inside the park, trans­form­ing the giant statue of the High Empress into a home: the bed­room occu­pied one breast, the kitchen another, the bath­room one foot. She shared her time in the park with her com­pan­ion Tinguely, who also con­tributed sev­eral of his enor­mous mechan­i­cal installations.

The park is open from April to October.

Fon­dazione Il Gia­rdino dei Tarocchi

Local­ità Garavicchio

58011 Capal­bio (GR)

+39 0564 895122

tarotg@tin.it