Margaret Keane

Painting by Margaret Keane

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Painting by Margaret Keane

Margaret Keane: The Big Eyes Behind the Canvas

Margaret Keane, a renowned American artist, is best known for her distinctive and emotionally charged paintings featuring subjects with hauntingly large eyes. Her unique style, characterized by oversized and expressive eyes, has left an indelible mark on the art world. Keane’s journey as an artist is not only a testament to her creative prowess but also a narrative of personal triumph over adversity.

Painting by Margaret Keane
Painting by Margaret Keane

Early Life and Artistic Beginnings:

Margaret D. H. Keane was born on September 15, 1927, in Nashville, Tennessee. Her early life was marked by the challenges of growing up during the Great Depression. Despite the difficulties, Keane found solace in art and began developing her skills from a young age. In the 1950s, she moved to San Francisco, where she would later gain fame for her distinctive artistic style.

The Big Eyes Phenomenon:

Margaret Keane’s breakthrough came in the early 1960s when she started creating paintings featuring subjects, often children or women, with disproportionately large and emotive eyes. These paintings, known as the “Big Eyes” series, quickly captured the public’s attention and became a cultural phenomenon. The eyes in her paintings conveyed a depth of emotion that resonated with viewers on a profound level.

Painting by Margaret Keane
Painting by Margaret Keane

Walter and the Controversy:

Margaret’s success took an unexpected turn when her husband, Walter Keane, began taking credit for her work. Walter, a charismatic and savvy promoter, convinced Margaret to let him claim authorship of her paintings to enhance their marketability. The Keane couple became a sensation in the art world, with Walter publicly showcasing Margaret’s work as his own.

The ruse continued for years, and Margaret remained silent about her contribution to the paintings. However, as the popularity of the Big Eyes paintings grew, so did the pressure for Margaret to reveal the truth behind the authorship of her art.

Painting by Margaret Keane
Painting by Margaret Keane

Legal Battle and Redemption:

In the 1970s, Margaret Keane found the courage to break free from the deception and take legal action against Walter for claiming credit for her work. The ensuing legal battle, known as the “Great Big Eyes Battle,” culminated in a court showdown where Margaret painted live to prove her authorship. The judge ruled in her favor, acknowledging Margaret as the true artist behind the iconic Big Eyes paintings.

After the legal victory, Margaret reclaimed her identity as an artist and continued to create art in her distinctive style. Her story of resilience and triumph over adversity became an inspiration to many, highlighting the importance of authenticity in the art world.

Legacy and Recognition:

Margaret Keane’s contribution to the art world extends beyond her unique style; her story has become an integral part of art history. Despite the challenges she faced, Margaret persevered, leaving a legacy that goes beyond the canvas. In 2014, Tim Burton directed the biographical film “Big Eyes,” which brought her story to a broader audience and further solidified her place in art history.

Margaret Keane’s artistic journey is a captivating tale of talent, deception, and redemption. Through her emotionally charged paintings, she not only created a distinctive style but also captured the essence of human emotion. Margaret’s courage to reclaim her identity and the subsequent recognition of her talent stand as a testament to the enduring power of authenticity in the world of art.

Margaret Keane: The Artist Behind the Big Eyes

Margaret Keane was an American artist who is best known for her paintings of subjects with big, sad eyes. Her work was popularized in the 1960s, and her paintings were reproduced on a wide variety of merchandise, including prints, plates, and cups. Keane’s work has been both praised and criticized, but she remains one of the most popular and recognizable artists of the 20th century.

Early Life and Artistic Development

Margaret D. H. Keane was born Peggy Doris Hawkins on September 15, 1927, in Nashville, Tennessee. She began drawing and painting at an early age, and she was encouraged by her parents to pursue her artistic talents. Keane studied art at the Traphagen School of Design in New York City, and she later moved to San Francisco, where she began to exhibit her work in local galleries.

The Big Eyes Era

In the 1950s, Keane began to paint the large-eyed waifs that would make her famous. These paintings were often dark and melancholic, and they featured children with oversized eyes that seemed to look out at the viewer with a sense of longing and sadness. Keane’s work was initially met with criticism from some art critics, but it was popular with the public, and she quickly became a successful artist.

The Battle for Credit

In the early 1960s, Keane’s husband, Walter Keane, began to take credit for her paintings. Walter was a charismatic salesman, and he was able to promote Keane’s work to a wider audience. However, Margaret was unhappy with the arrangement, and she eventually left Walter and moved to Hawaii.

In 1965, Margaret Keane filed a lawsuit against Walter, claiming that he had fraudulently taken credit for her work. The trial was a media circus, and it ended with Margaret being awarded $4 million in damages. The trial also brought Keane’s work to the attention of the international art world, and she became even more famous.

Later Life and Legacy

Keane continued to paint throughout her life, and she remained a popular artist until her death in 2022. Her work is now exhibited in museums around the world, and it is still sought after by collectors.

Keane’s work has been both praised and criticized. Some critics have dismissed her paintings as sentimental and kitsch, while others have praised her for her unique style and her ability to capture the emotions of children.

Despite the criticism, Keane’s work remains popular, and she is considered to be one of the most influential artists of the 20th century. Her paintings continue to evoke a sense of wonder and nostalgia, and they remind us of the power of art to connect with people on an emotional level.

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