The story of how Margaret Keane became one of the most successful artists in America that nobody had ever heard of is both fascinating and terribly sad. For over 20 years Margaret was a virtual slave to her husband Walter who took the credit, and money, for her famous works. Almost every home in America had a ‘Walter Keane’ on the wall, distinctive for portraits of sad, big-eyed children that he claimed were inspired by his time in Berlin after the war and the children he saw there scavenging for food in the rubble. In fact Walter couldn’t paint at all and, after lying to patrons at the beatnik club in San Francisco where he sold Margaret’s works, he convinced her that they would be sued for fraud if anyone found out he was lying. It took Margaret twenty years to come forward. In that time she was a virtual prisoner in her home, Walter kept tabs on her every move and wouldn’t allow her to see friends in case his secret would be revealed. In 1970, shortly after divorcing Walter, Margaret approached a reporter and told the true story, a story which Walter vehemently denied. Margaret sued Walter. The judge challenged them both to paint a child with big eyes, right there in court, in front of everyone. Margaret painted hers in 53 minutes. Walter said he couldn’t because he had a sore shoulder. Margaret won the case and was awarded 4 million dollars but never saw a penny since Walter had drank it all. Her style of painting eventually went out of vogue and the story was forgotten until recently. Margaret’s tale will shortly be told in a biopic by Tim Burton starring Amy Adams in which Margaret also has a small cameo and she was recently interviewed by Jon Ronson for the Guardian. At least now she is getting some of the recognition that Walter took from her.
Aoife Flynn 57 posts 0 comments
Aoife Flynn is an artist, illustrator, maker, and twin. She is into all things visual and cultural and is wary of writing about herself in the third person, but if she doesn't do it, who will?