Meet the Sweet Woman at Center of Massive Art Fraud

Margaret Keane painted 'big eyes' works, but husband took credit
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 28, 2014 5:11 PM CDT
Updated Nov 1, 2014 3:25 PM CDT

In its interview with 87-year-old Margaret Keane, the Guardian points out that the polite woman "is the last person you’d expect to be a participant in one of the great art frauds of the 20th century." But she is indeed, thanks to her "big eyes" paintings that became a national phenomenon in the 1960s. The problem is that her husband, Walter Keane, began selling the paintings and telling everyone that he was the artist. Margaret was angry when she first learned of the deception, but she decided to go along because Walter the charmer convinced her it was the wise course. Soon, they were raking in serious money, and she kept right on painting her big-eyed children under her husband's name even after they divorced.

Margaret finally confessed to a reporter in 1970, and sued her ex. Though Walter tried to deny it, a judge settled the matter when he told them both to create a big-eyes painting in the courtroom. Margaret did so quickly, while Walter, who couldn't paint at all, claimed to have a sore shoulder. If it sounds like the stuff of Hollywood, Tim Burton agrees, and his Big Eyes biopic opens on Christmas Day. Look closely, and "you might see a now elderly Margaret, sitting on a park bench, in a cameo appearance," reports Artlyst. "She may even have big eyes, and—a slight smile on her face." (Click to read about a Queens man whose forgeries tricked the experts for years.)

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