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Margaret D. H. Keane (born 1927) is an American artist. She is a painter, who mainly draws women and children in oil or mixed media. Her works are recognizable from the over sized, doe-eyed children[1] that are depicted in her drawings.

Screen Shot 2014-11-01 at 11.17.18 AM.png

 

Biography

Margaret Keane was born 1927 in Tennessee, and attributes her deep respect for the Bible and inspirations of her artwork to the relationship with her grandmother. She later became one of Jehovah's Witnesses, which she claimed changed her life for the better.[2]

CaptureMargaret Keane Big eyes jw wiki.png 

In the 1960s, Margaret Keane's artwork was sold under the name of her husband,Walter Keane, who claimed credit for her work. She left her home in San Francisco on November 1, 1964 for Hawaii, where she lived for 27 years. In March 1965, she divorced Walter. In 1970, she remarried to Honolulu sports writer, Dan McGuire.[3] In 1970, Margaret Keane announced to the world, via radio broadcast, that she was the true author of the paintings.[4] The Keanes' continued to dispute the author of the paintings, and after Walter Keane suggested to USA Today that the only reason Margaret claimed she was the painter was because she believed he was dead, she sued him in federal court for slander.[5] At the hearing, the Judge ordered both Margaret and and Walter to create a big-eyed child painting in the courtroom to determine who was telling the truth.[1] Walter declined to paint before the court, citing a sore shoulder, whereas Margaret completed her painting in a mere 53 minutes.[6] After three weeks of trial, a jury awarded Margaret $4 million in damages.[7]

Her works while living in her husband's shadow tended to depict sad children in a dark setting, but after divorcing, moving to Hawaii, and becoming a member of Jehovah's Witnesses, her paintings took on a happier, brighter style. Her website now advertises her work as having "tears of joy" or "tears of happiness".

Currently, Margaret makes her home in Napa County, California. She will be portrayed by Amy Adams in the upcoming film, Big Eyes, directed by Tim Burton, a Keane art collector who once commissioned the artist to paint his then-girlfriend Lisa Marie in the 1990s.[8]

"Walter was to Big Eye art what Howard Johnson is to to mutliflavor ice cream," Jane Howard wrote in 1965. Diane Keaton ogled Keanes in Woody Allen's "Sleeper" in 1973. Saturday Night Live featured Keanes in a contemporary art parody in the 1980s. Stars like Joan Crawford, Jerry Lewis, Kim Novak and Natalie Wood counted themselves as collectors. As does Burton, of course.
And, according to The New York Times, Walter would charge up to $50,000 per painting, earning millions of dollars a year.

Capture walter keane jw wiki.png

So What Happened?
"[Margaret] helped Walter switch careers from selling real estate to running galleries in New York and San Francisco," Eve M. Kahn describes. "She raised their two daughters and painted at night while he traveled, philandered openly and drank heavily. The big-eye portraits, although shown at venues as prominent as world’s fair pavilions, did not impress aesthetes."
So Margaret finally spoke up. After decades of Walter taking the credit, she stepped forward. "For many years I had allowed my second husband to take credit for my paintings. But one day, unable to continue the deception any longer, I left him and my home in California and moved to Hawaii." In 1965, she was granted legal separationfrom her husband. And in 1970 she confessed on a radio show that all of the "eyes" paintings were hers.
In response, Walter likened himself to Rembrandt, El Greco and Michelangelo, and said that he was "flabbergasted" by Margaret's proclamations. The public lampooning culminated in a paint off -- well, it was supposed to. Walter pleaded a shoulder injury and never painted.Slander suits were filed. And Margaret produced Exhibit 224, a piece of artwork painted before jurors in 53 minutes that dramatically settled the dispute.
She was awarded $4 million in damages in 1986. In most people's opinions, and certainly in the eyes of the law, she had proved she was the real Keane artist.

Where Are They Now?
Margaret, now in her late 80s, remarried and continued painting. Continued painting those eyes, to be exact. In 1992 the Keane Eyes Gallery was up and running, offering Big Eyes on posters, plates and prints, ranging in price from $200 to $15,000. "People either hate my paintings or they love them," Margaret observed shortly after the gallery's opening. "There does not seem to be much middle ground."
Meanwhile, Walter refused to admit Margaret's truth, despite the fact that public opinion had turned against him. He claimed to be penniless after he lost in the suit in '86, and he died in 2000 at the age of 85.

Screen Shot 2014-11-01 at 11.17.54 AM.png

Legacy

  • Actresses Joan Crawford and Natalie Wood commissioned Keane to paint their portraits.
  • In 1973, Woody Allen's comedy Sleeper features people of the future considering Keane to be one of the greatest artists in history.
  • In the 1980s, sketch series Saturday Night Live aired a skit featuring Keane's work as a parody of the reaction against modern art (e.g., Cubism or the New York Armory Show). Additionally, in the sitcom Newhart, Bob looks at a Keane-inspired painting with his puzzled observation as, "Children with big ears?"
  • In 1988, Weird Al Yankovic's song, "Velvet Elvis", features the lyrics, "no pictures of Mexican kids with those really big eyes or dogs playing poker".
  • In 1998, cartoon series the Powerpuff Girls debuts by animator Craig McCracken, featuring leads based on Keane's "waifs" (and a character named "Ms. Keane").
  • In 1999, Matthew Sweet's album, In Reverse, features one of Keane's oil paintings on the album's cover.[9]
  • In 2011, 90210 featured an episode in which character Annie is described as looking "like a Keane painting."
  • In 2014, the movie Big Eyes directed by Tim Burton and starring Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz is based on the divorce trial between Margaret and Walter in the 1950s and '60s.

References

  1. "Tim Burton 'Big Eyes' Movie Tells The Story Of Art Couple Margaret and Walter Keane...", Huffington Post, April 4, 2013. Retrieved 2013-06-09.
  2. "My Life as a Famous Artist", Awake!, July 8, 1975
  3. "Big Eyes and All: The Unofficial Biography of Margaret Keane", page 27
  4. http://www.people.com/people/archive/article/0,,20093924,00.html
  5. http://www.people.com/people/archive/article/0,,20093924,00.html
  6. http://www.people.com/people/archive/article/0,,20093924,00.html
  7. http://www.people.com/people/archive/article/0,,20093924,00.html
  8. “The big-eyed children: the extraordinary story of an epic art fraud”, “The Guardian”, October 26, 2014, Retrieved 2014-10-28.
  9. http://www.avclub.com/articles/matthew-sweet,13636/
  10. Official Collectors Gallery by Copper State Design
  11. Ask Art
  12. An excerpt transcribed from Awake! magazine of July 8, 1975 reposted by Megan Besmirched
  13. Keane Eyes Gallery
  14. Natasha: The Biography of Natalie Wood by Suzanne Finstad
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