• gerard van weyenbergh

Woman in the shadow of her husband: Margaret Keane

Margaret Keane: one of the biggest sham in the history of art

Margaret DH Keane was born as Peggy Doris Hawkins in 1927 in Nashville, USA. She adopts her own pictorial identity from childhood: youthful faces, with oversized eyes that she will describe as "reflections of the soul". She went through the Nashville School of Art and then studied at the Traphagen School of Design in New York. At the beginning of the fifties, her style struggled to please and to make itself known. During an art fair organized in San Francisco, she met her future husband: Walter Keane. Ex-real estate agent by trade, painter by trade. At least, that's what he tells the young artist. The handsome talker has many canvases at home, but which in reality are not from his hand.

Once married, Walter insists on taking his new wife's paintings to a club in San Francisco. Quickly, Walter Keane negotiated the sale of several paintings, signed simply with their common surname. But Margaret realizes that her husband claims to have painted them himself. Faced with the facts, he retorts that the important thing is to earn money and that changing their version would certainly earn them legal proceedings. Under the influence of a manipulative husband, Margaret is silent and does not imagine, at that moment, falling into a gear.

Her work is a resounding success and is sold in all forms of variations, from postcards to magnets. In 1964, one of her works was even exhibited at the New York World's Fair, before being withdrawn due to critics deeming it too kitsch. The more her art is appreciated, the more her husband will gain ascendancy over her, intoxicated by this usurped success and her ego. Walter Keane will be featured in many interviews, featuring inspirations from the post-war era. He says he was struck by the faces of children in Europe, "like rats", starving, frightened.

Now living in a luxury villa, Walter Keane saves appearances with his regular guests, hiding the dark side of his swindle. Their life as a couple is dangerously dwindling. Walter locks Margaret 16 hours a day in his workshop where no one is allowed to enter. Frustrated, he forbids her to have friends and the threat of death.

Excerpt from the movie Big Eyes, by Tim Burton © WEINSTEIN COMPANY / COURTESY EVERETT COLLECTION

Unable to stand it any longer, Margaret left her husband in 1965 and announced publicly on the radio that she was the author of the "big eyes". She ends up suing him where the two are invited to paint to be decided. In 53 minutes, Margaret realizes with the greatest ease, a painting typical of her style. Walter, meanwhile, uses a pain in his shoulder to escape it and avoid dishonor. Margaret Keane wins her case and her legitimacy. Walter, meanwhile, will claim until his death to be the creator of the paintings.

Neon Magazine - Lisa Black

Video about plagiarism & Margaret Keane : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9WgStC6fvtM

Margaret Keane herself: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OMKnuhNe3Pc