Margaret Keane

“I didn’t want people to know that I was an artist. I was ashamed. I thought artists were weird, crazy people, you know. So I always kind of hid the fact that I was an artist.” —Margaret Keane

Margaret Keane (born 1927) is an American artist, known for painting  the kitschy “big-eyed waifs” that were popular in the 1960s. At one point, her sentimental work, mass-reproduced and sold cheaply in dime-stores, were among the most popular and recognized in the country. The problem was that her her husband, Walter Keane was taking all the credit. Walter was a great marketer, but he lied to the public so that her work would be passed off as his own. Caught in his deception, Margaret worked, at the height of (his) fame, up to 16 hours a day. This would become one of the greatest stories of art fraud in America, regardless of whether the work was critically acknowledged as serious art. When Margaret finally found the courage to leave Walter and branch off on her own, the word came out that she had been the artist behind these popular paintings all along. Walter denied the charges so a “paint-off” was called for in court (to which Walter found many excuses not to engage.) Eventually, it was established that Margaret had been the original painter all along. In her words, after being awarded 4 million in damages (including emotional distress): “I never saw a cent of it, but I won… It was a blessing just to sign my name.”

Artist’s note: I wouldn’t say that as an artist, Margaret was breaking new ground. But she was an overcomer and a survivor of an abusive relationship. In the end, truth won out, and she not only cleared her name, but she continued to make paintings, signed in her own name for the rest of her life. She’s 90 now. Bravo, Margaret!

I made her eyes just a little larger on purpose to pay tribute to Margaret’s style.


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