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Margaret Keane: Overcoming Exploitation

Margaret Keane

In the 1960s, paintings of “sad-eyed children,” massively reproduced in posters and cards, became possibly the best-selling art in the world for a time, thanks to the tireless marketing by Walter Keane of “his” work. The “big eyes” images were owned by celebrities and hung in many permanent collections.

But Walter Keane was a fraud and plagiarist: the art was actually created by his wife Margaret Keane.

“After years of silence, Margaret finally told a radio audience in 1970 that she, in fact, had painted all those wide-eyed waifs.”

“A trial jury awarded her $4 million for the emotional distress and damaged reputation she had suffered because of Walter’s false statements.”

[Margaret Keane’s Artful Case Proves That She—and Not Her Ex-Husband—made Waifs By James S. Kunen, People mag.]

She divorced Walter in 1965, became a Jehovah’s Witness, and says the teachings of the Bible helped give her resolve to stop being part of the deception, and stop lying about anything.

video: Margaret Keane, Painter Behind Tim Burton’s ‘Big Eyes’ | KQED Arts

Amy Adams portrays Margaret in the movie “Big Eyes” and comments about her meetings with the painter:

“She still had a sense of guilt for her part in it. That was something that I really responded to because she says, ‘Well, I went along with it and I did lie. A lot.’

“Whatever the reasons were, she still admits that she lied,” said Adams. “She felt very manipulated, but she never phrased it like, ‘I don’t know why Walter did this to me.’ She says, ‘I don’t understand how I put up with this. How I went along with it for so long.’”

Adams had to improvise to create the voice of Margaret in the movie.

“I won’t say who it is, but there is a woman in my life who is quiet and I’m terrified of her…she’s from Texas and she is steely strong but very, very shy, very quiet,” said Adams. “She doesn’t talk loud, but boy when she talks, I listen.”

[Amy Adams found “Big Eyes” character no victim, by Lindsey Bahr, Associated Press.]

In another interview Margaret admits, “I was a very abused wife. Psychologically abused, tremendously. I kept getting deeper and deeper in this hole, and I didn’t know how to get out.”

[​“Big Eyes” and the eye-opening story of Margaret Keane, CBS News.]

But having regained her self-esteem and resolve to be an artist with her own identity, at 87 years old Margaret continues to work almost daily.

She says, “Now, I try to paint happy children and animals playing together in paradise scenes…”

Photo of Margaret Keane from her site Keane Eyes Gallery.


Citizen Keane: The Big Lies Behind the Big Eyes by Adam Parfrey and Cletus Nelson.

Big Eyes: The Film, the Art by Leah Gallo.


Margaret Keane: Overcoming Exploitation

Douglas Eby

Douglas EbyDouglas Eby, MA/Psychology, is a writer and researcher on psychology and personal development related to creativity; creator of the , and author of books including [link to book site with excerpts.]
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APA Reference
Eby, D. (2015). Margaret Keane: Overcoming Exploitation. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 6, 2020, from


Last updated: 4 Jan 2015
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