Margaret Keane, Sad-Eyed Waifs Artist, Dead at 94

Photo: CBS via Getty Images / CBS via Getty Images

Artist Margaret Keane, famous for her “Big Eyes” paintings, died at the age of 94 due to heart failure, according to the New York Times. Born Peggy Doris Hawkins, Keane grew up unable to hear properly, causing her to focus on people’s eyes growing up. In college, she worked with oil and acrylic paints, experimented with kitsch-style art, and painted big eyes in her schoolbooks. She met her second husband, Walter Keane, in the mid-1950s, and he helped her sell her “Big Eyes” paintings. However, Margaret had no idea Walter claimed that the art pieces were his. The lie eventually grew with Walter exhibiting the paintings at various galleries, and by 1960, he was one of the most commercially successful artists of the time.

After divorcing him in 1965, Margaret finally challenged Walter to a paint-off in 1970 to prove that she was the artist behind the Big Eyes paintings. While Walter never showed up to the paint-off, he eventually had to face Margaret in court in 1986, where the judge ordered them both to paint in the courtroom. Walter refused, claiming he had a sore shoulder, while Margaret finished her painting. He persisted in taking credit for the paintings until his death in 2000. Margaret continued to paint for the rest of her life and was honored with the lifetime achievement awards in 2018 at the Los Angeles Art Show. She is survived by her daughter Jane and her five stepchildren from her third marriage to Dan McGuire.

Amy Adams portrayed Keane in the 2014 Tim Burton film Big Eyes, which documented her relationship with her ex-husband, played by Christoph Waltz. Margaret was a fan of Tim Burton, as he was also a fan of her work, and joined Adams during panels to talk about the film and her career.

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