What Is the History of the Big-Eyed Children Paintings?


Quick Answer

Margaret Keane is the artist behind the pictures of big-eyed children, which first became popular in the United States in the 1960s. Margaret's artwork was initially sold under the name of her husband, Walter Keane, who took the credit for being the artist. When Margaret announced in 1970 that she was the true artist, Walter disputed this until a court case decided in Margaret's favor. Celebrity fans of the artist included Jerry Lewis, Andy Warhol and Joan Crawford.

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Full Answer

Walter and Margaret Keane were divorced in 1965, five years before Margaret revealed she was the true artist behind the big-eyed children paintings. When Walter disputed this claim in 1970, the San Francisco Examiner staged a competition in Union Square where the two would have a "paint-off" to settle which one was telling the truth. Walter failed to show up for the contest.

After a 1986 article in USA Today proclaiming Walter as the real artist, Margaret sued both the newspaper and her ex-husband. The judge in the case ordered both of them to recreate a big-eyed painting in the courtroom, in front of the jury. Walter declined, citing a sore shoulder. Margaret completed her painting in under an hour and was subsequently awarded $4 million in damages.

In 2014, a movie called Big Eyes was released starring Amy Adams as Margaret Keane. It told the story of her success and her struggle to be recognized as the true artist behind the big-eyed children paintings.

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