Margaret Keane, famed for her colossally successful “big eyes” portraits of children, overcame stuffy critics and a plagiarizing husband to become the godmother of lowbrow art. She died this week at 94.
Interesting Facts: Four decades ago, paintings featuring Margaret Keane’s sad-eyed waifs with oversized orbs were reviled by the art establishment as being about as subtle and original as …
Even so, the masses snatched up dime-store prints, while the original paintings ended up in New York’s United Nations, Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre, and in the homes of such celebrities as Joan Crawford, Red Skelton, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Dinah Shore, Jerry Lewis, Dean Martin, Lisa Marie, Robert Wagner, Tim Burton, and Mathew Sweet.
She even painted animals on rocks that sold for ridiculous amounts. But having a Keane original was worth it for most. And her collaboration with Film-maker Tim Burton on the film “Big Eyes” telling her story of reclaiming her work as her own. I watched the trailer but have not seen the film. Amy Adams plays the lead so that alone puts it on my “watch list.
Margaret was partially deaf which she used to watch the eyes of the persons talking. After she divorced Walter, she announced on a radio broadcast that she was the real artist of the paintings. He had threatened to “do her in” if she told anyone.
“In 1970, Margaret Keane announced on a radio broadcast she was the real creator of the paintings that had been attributed to her ex-husband Walter Keane. After Margaret Keane revealed the truth, a “paint-off” between Margaret and Walter was staged in San Francisco’s Union Square, arranged by Bill Flang, a reporter from the San Francisco Examiner and attended by the media and Margaret. Walter did not show up. In 1986, she sued both Walter and USA Today in federal court for an article claiming Walter was the real artist. At the trial, the judge famously ordered both Margaret and Walter to each create a big-eyed painting in the courtroom, to determine who was telling the truth. Walter declined, citing a sore shoulder, whereas Margaret completed her painting in 53 minutes. After a three-week trial, the jury awarded her $4 million in damages. After the verdict, Margaret Keane said “I really feel that justice has triumphed. It’s been worth it, even if I don’t see any of that four million dollars.”
She got her life and name restored! I write these stories to right the wrongs by men who took credit. She expanded her subjects over her long career, but her signature “big eyes” were always present.
Originally recognized by their wistful and sad-eyed children, Margaret Keane’s works now feature happy children, animals, or both, all with her signature large-eyes, in delightful places and situations. “The eyes I draw on my children are an expression of my own deepest feelings. Eyes are windows of the soul,” explains Margaret.