For years they couldn’t be missed – the pictures of sad, sad-eyed children that seemed to be hanging everywhere from museums to discount stores. Though the art critics were unimpressed, Americans rushed to the tills to buy the artwork.
But there was a backstory — an ugly divorce, a courtroom painting, and a Tim Burton film that explored the story of Margaret Keane, the artist who worked almost anonymously in a basement while her husband created the trash. wildly popular paintings she created.
Keane, who has been confirmed as the creator of the wide-eyed paintings, painted and sold her artworks at her home in Napa up until the Sunday of her death, according to the Keane Eyes Gallery in San Francisco. She was 94.
Keane’s first wide-eyed pictures were taken in the late 1950s on San Francisco’s North Beach, then a vibrant bohemian haven. Though received more as a curiosity than serious contemporary art, there was something compelling about the children’s images, their eyes filled with less wonder than panic, if not fear, which resonated with viewers.
As the paintings sold—eventually in the millions—Keane’s husband, Walter, stepped forward and paid tribute to the art. A former real estate agent with a big personality and a talent for showmanship, he’s appeared on television shows, toured galleries from New York to LA, and dutifully signed every painting with a simple “Keane.” If anyone bothered to ask him, he would describe his wife as a struggling amateur.
Requests for personalized big-eye paintings were also received from the celebrity world, and portraits were created from photos of Natalie Wood, Caroline Kennedy, Liberace, Kim Novak and many others. Although the paintings sold for as little as $40 back then, they often fetch thousands today.
In 1970, after a protracted and acrimonious divorce, Keane confided to a reporter that her ex-husband hadn’t painted any of the waifs wide-eyed and offered to prove it at a public demonstration in San Francisco’s Union Square. Emerging with her easel, she quickly brought out a classic, wide-eyed child. Walter Keane didn’t bother to show up, although he remained in charge of the artwork.
Keane filed a defamation lawsuit against her ex-husband for claiming credit for her work, and her attorney arranged a strikeout while the jury looked on. In less than an hour, a perfectly executed child rushed her with baleful eyes. Walter Keane, complaining of a sore shoulder, did not pick up his brush. She was awarded $4 million in damages, although he died in 2000 before paying the verdict.
Years later, Burton – whose wife Keane knew – adapted her story into the film Big Eyes, in which life is stranger than fiction, starring Amy Adams as Keane and Christoph Waltz as her conniving ex-husband. Keane thanked him by painting a wide-eyed portrait of his wife.
During a retrospective of her work at the Laguna Art Museum in 2000, she spoke to The Times about the deception and abuse she allegedly suffered at the hands of her husband.
“I had to keep the paint room door locked so the cleaner, my daughter, and anyone else couldn’t come in,” she said of the basement where she painted.
“I drew my own deepest inner feelings and searched for answers,” she said. “The eyes were always asking, ‘Why, why is there suffering? What’s the meaning of life?'”
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/story/2022-06-29/margaret-keane-big-eyes-artist-and-subject-of-tim-burton-film-dies Margaret Keane, subject of Tim Burton film, dies