Margaret Keane is an American artist who is known as the creator of the ‘big-eyed waifs’—paintings of women and children with prominent big eyes. While her art form has proved to be commercially successful, her style of painting has been dismissed by critics for being “cheesy.” Keane was born in Nashville, Tennessee, in the US. She developed an interest in art at a very young age. She became well-known in her church community because of her sketches of angels with big eyes and floppy wings. She married Walter Keane in the mid-1950s, but later found out that he was taking credit for her paintings and selling them. Though he forcibly convinced her to go along with the facade, she eventually found it torturous. She later sued Walter and won the case after a judge asked each of them to create a painting in the courtroom. She was paid $4 million in damages. She has also been commissioned by Hollywood actors like Joan Crawford, Natalie Wood, and Jerry Lewis to paint their portraits. She maintains a gallery in San Francisco, which claims to be the largest collection of her artworks in the world.
Margaret Keane attended the Traphagen School of Design in New York City at the age of 18. She started working by painting clothing and baby cribs during the 1950s and eventually moved to painting portraits. Though she was married by this time, she got a divorce and moved to San Francisco. She soon got acquainted with Walter Keane, a real estate agent, and the two were attracted to each other. They eventually got married.
Shortly after their marriage, Walter began to sell her paintings. However, he claimed them to be his own works; a fact which was unknown to Keane. When she came to know about this, he threatened her to continue the facade. This greatly pained Keane but she felt helpless.
Eventually her paintings became extremely popular in the market, and started earning millions. Walter, who was also a drunkard and a womanizer, started being very abusive towards her. He used to lock her in a studio with nothing to do but create more paintings for him to sell.
Finally in a radio interview in 1970, she revealed that it was she who was the real creator of those paintings. She filed a lawsuit against Walter which she eventually won after she proved herself to be the genuine artist by reproducing one of her works in less than an hour. She was awarded $4 million in damages. However, she said that she didn’t’ care about the money and only wanted to establish herself as the true creator of her paintings.
In 2014, a biographical drama film named ‘Big Eyes’, based on Keane’s life, was released. Directed by Tim Burton, the movie showed how her husband took credit for her work and how she eventually revealed herself to be the actual artist. The film was a commercial success and earned positive reviews as well. Actress Amy Adams, who portrayed Keane, won the Golden Globe Award for her performance.
Keane was also commissioned to paint portraits of multiple Hollywood actors. She has been influenced by the works of artists, such as Ameden Modigliani, Van Gogh, Gustav Klimt and Picasso.
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Margaret Keane was born as Peggy Doris Hawkins on 15th September 1927 in Nashville, Tennessee. At the early age of two, her eardrum was permanently damaged due to a mastoid operation, after which she learned to understand people by observing them.
She started drawing at a young age. She took a few classes at the Watkins Art Institute when she was ten years old. Her first painting was of two little girls, one crying and the other laughing.
She was married to Frank Richard Ulbrich from 1948 to 1955 and had one daughter. Her second marriage was with Walter Keane from 1955 to 1965. A few years after their divorce, she married sports writer Dan McGuire in 1970. She currently lives in Napa County in California, in the US.