Margaret Keane

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Margaret Keane
Born 1927 (1927)
Occupation Artist
Religion Jehovah's Witnesses

Margaret D. H. Keane (born 1927) is an American artist. She is a painter, who mainly draws women and children in oil or mixed media. Her works are recognizable from the over sized, doe-eyed children[1] that are depicted in the drawings.


Margaret Keane was born 1927 in Tennessee, and attributes her deep respect for the Bible and inspirations of her artwork to the relationship with her grandmother. She later became one of Jehovah's Witnesses, which she claimed changed her life for the better.[2]

In the 1960s, Margaret Keane's artwork was sold under the name of her husband, Walter Keane, who claimed credit for her work. Conflict over that issue was cited as one of the reasons they divorced. The Keanes' divorce proceedings went all the way to federal court. At the hearing, Margaret challenged Walter to a "paint-off" and created a painting in front of the judge to prove that she was the artist.[1] Walter declined to paint before the court, citing a sore shoulder. She left her home in San Francisco on November 1st, 1964 for Hawaii, where she lived for 27 years. In March of 1965, she divorced Walter. In 1970, she remarried to Honolulu sports writer, Dan McGuire. [3] In 1986, the courts sided with Margaret, enabling her to paint under her own name.

Her works while living in her husband's shadow tended to depict sad children in a dark setting, but after divorcing, moving to Hawaii, and becoming a member of Jehovah's Witnesses, her paintings took on a happier, brighter style. Her website now advertises her work as having "tears of joy" or "tears of happiness".

Keane is a fixture in popular culture. Some of her well-known fans over the years have included actresses Joan Crawford and Natalie Wood, whose portraits she painted; filmmaker Tim Burton, who commissioned Keane to paint Lisa Marie; and animator Craig McCracken, whose characters the Powerpuff Girls are based on Keane's "waifs"; additionally, the Girls' schoolteacher is named "Ms. Keane".

Currently Margaret makes her home in Napa County, California. She will be portrayed by Amy Adams in the upcoming Tim Burton film Big Eyes.

Cultural references[edit]

  • The American television comedy show Saturday Night Live once had a skit that featured her work, during the time when it was thought to be by her husband, as a parody of the reaction against modern art (e.g., Cubism or the New York Armory Show). "People don't look like that!" one comedian shrieks, before the picture in question was shown to the camera and audience as the punch line.
  • In Woody Allen's 1973 comedy Sleeper, the people of the future consider Keane to be one of the greatest artists in history, one of many references mocking the popular culture of the seventies.
  • Matthew Sweet's 1999 album, In Reverse, features one of Margaret's oil paintings on the album's cover.[4]
  • Late Night with Conan O'Brien has "bumper" art in her style depicting a glum Conan O'Brien at his desk, next to a dog.
  • Weird Al Yankovic's song "Velvet Elvis", in which the narrator says he needs "no pictures of Mexican kids with those really big eyes or dogs playing poker".
  • In season 3, episode 20 of 90210 ("Women on the Verge"), Annie is described as looking "like a Keane painting."
  • In the American television comedy series Newhart, Michael (played by Peter Scolari), in search of his artistic muse, has been painting obsessively. When Bob (Bob Newhart) looks at Michael's "masterpiece" his puzzled observation is "Children with big ears?"
  • A Keane painting is featured briefly in a music video for American band Devo's song R U Experienced?, first as an effect when lead singer Mark Mothersbaugh's head morphs to become the child from the painting, and then again shortly after as the painting hanging on the wall of a home in the video.
  • In 2013 director Tim Burton announced he was making a film about Margaret Keane entitled Big Eyes. Burton collected Keane's work and it had featured in his previous films Beetlejuice and The Nightmare Before Christmas.[1]


  1. ^ a b c "Tim Burton 'Big Eyes' Movie Tells The Story Of Art Couple Margaret and Walter Keane...", Huffington Post, April 4, 2013. Retrieved 2013-06-09.
  2. ^ "My Life as a Famous Artist", Awake!, July 8, 1975
  3. ^ "Big Eyes and All: The Unofficial Biography of Margaret Keane", page 27
  4. ^,13636/

External links[edit]