Margaret Keane, who went to court to prove that her popular paintings of children with big, sad eyes were indeed hers and not her husband’s, a story told in the Tim Burton movie Big eyes, has passed away. She was 94.
Keane died Sunday of heart failure at her home in Napa, California, her daughter, Jane Swigert, told The New York Times†
Amy Adams portrayed Margaret Keane in Big eyes (2014) alongside Christoph Waltz as her real estate agent, Walter Keane.
For years, starting in the 1950s, Walter Keane convinced his wife to paint up to 16 hours a day, while promoting her work as his own. Stars like Jerry Lewis, Zsa Zsa Gabor and Liberace had Keane shoot portraits, and Joan Crawford used one of hers for the cover of her 1962 autobiography.
After Margaret and Walter divorced in 1965, she finally revealed in 1970 that she was the true artist behind the kitschy artwork.
In a 1986 Honolulu court “paint-off,” Margaret ran a wide-eyed hedgehog in 53 minutes, while Walter, who represented himself in the case, said he had a sore shoulder and was unable to move. to paint. She won $4 million in damages, though they were evicted after Walter was declared bankrupt.
In his THR review by Big eyeswrote Todd McCarthy: “This deft, stunned, culturally curious look at the married instigators of the kitschy ‘big-eyed’ paintings of the early 1960s exudes a pleasingly eccentric appeal, while also painting a disturbing picture of male dominance. and female submission half a century ago.
“This is a story of authorship and ownership of the same thing in the context of an extremely unbalanced marriage, as well as a twisted struggle for recognition of one’s work, even if naysayers might ask, as one does, ‘Who would take the credit? want for?’”
Her story was also explored in Adam Parfrey and Cletus Nelson’s 2014 book, Citizen Keane: The big lies behind the big eyes†
Keane worked closely with screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski to script the film for The Weinstein Co. including Walter’s self-examination in the Honolulu courtroom.
“I was just completely blown away when I saw the road” [Waltz] looked like him, acted just like him — it was like watching Walter,” Keane said during an early screening of the film. “It was a very emotional, traumatic experience when I first saw the film. I just couldn’t believe it. I was really in shock for about two days.”
“Margaret was so gentle and so inclusive,” Adams said at the event. “I felt a huge responsibility to play her with a lot of dignity and respect, because I think she is a woman with a lot of dignity and a lot of respect, not only for herself, but also for others.”
On Twitter, Karaszewski noted Keane’s death, writing: “Grateful we all got to spend so much time getting to know her beautiful spirit. It took a decade to bring Big eyes to the screen. But her story of surviving abuse was important. She wanted the world to know the truth about her life and art.”
Margaret Keane passed away. Grateful that we were all allowed to spend so much time getting to know her beautiful mind. It took ten years to bring “Big Eyes” to the screen. But her story of surviving abuse was important. She wanted the world to know the truth about her life and art. pic.twitter.com/OtPNY5lRYU
— Larry Karaszewski (@Karaszewski) June 29, 2022