Margaret Keane

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Margaret Keane
Margaret Keane.jpg
Margaret Keane with first husband Frank Ulbrich, painting names on neckties at the fair, 1953.
Born Peggy Doris Hawkins
1927 (age 86–87)
Nashville, Tennessee
Other names Peggy Ulbrich, MDH Keane, Margaret McGuire
Occupation Artist
Religion Jehovah's Witness
Spouse(s) Frank Ulbrich,
Walter Keane (m. 1955; div. 1965),
Dan McGuire (m. 1970)
Children 1

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 oversized, doe-like eyes of the children [1] that are depicted in her drawings.

Life and work[edit]

Margaret Keane was born Peggy Doris Hawkins in Tennessee, and attributes her deep respect for the Bible and inspirations of her artwork to her relationship with her grandmother. She later became one of Jehovah's Witnesses, which, she states, 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. She left her home in San Francisco on November 1, 1964 for Hawaii, where she lived for 27 years. In March 1965, she divorced Walter. In 1970, she married to Honolulu sports writer Dan McGuire.[3] In 1970, Margaret Keane announced to the world, via radio broadcast, that she was the true creator of the paintings.[4] The Keanes continued to dispute the origin of the paintings, and after Walter Keane suggested to USA Today that the only reason Margaret claimed she was the painter was because she believed he was dead, she sued him in federal court for slander.[4] At the hearing, the Judge ordered both Margaret and Walter to create a big-eyed child painting in the courtroom to determine who was telling the truth.[1] Walter declined to paint before the court, citing a sore shoulder, whereas Margaret completed her painting in a mere 53 minutes. After three weeks of trial, a jury awarded Margaret $4 million in damages.[4]

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 one 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".

Currently, Margaret makes her home in Napa County, California. She will be portrayed by Amy Adams in the upcoming film, Big Eyes, directed by Tim Burton, a Keane art collector who once commissioned the artist to paint his then-girlfriend Lisa Marie in the 1990s.[5]


  • Actresses Joan Crawford and Natalie Wood commissioned Keane to paint their portraits.
  • In 1973, Woody Allen's comedy Sleeper features people of the future considering Keane to be one of the greatest artists in history.
  • In the 1980s, sketch series Saturday Night Live aired a skit featuring Keane's work as a parody of the reaction against modern art (e.g., Cubism or the New York Armory Show). Additionally, in the sitcom Newhart, Bob looks at a Keane-inspired painting with his puzzled observation as, "Children with big ears?"
  • In 1988, Weird Al Yankovic's song, "Velvet Elvis", features the lyrics, "no pictures of Mexican kids with those really big eyes or dogs playing poker".
  • In 1998, cartoon series the Powerpuff Girls debuts by animator Craig McCracken, featuring leads based on Keane's "waifs" (and a character named "Ms. Keane").
  • In 1999, Matthew Sweet's album, In Reverse, features one of Keane's oil paintings on the album's cover.[6]
  • In 2011, 90210 featured an episode in which character Annie is described as looking "like a Keane painting."
  • In 2014, the movie Big Eyes directed by Tim Burton and starring Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz, premiered. It is based on the the relationship between Margaret and Walter in the 1950s and '60s.


  1. ^ a b "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. ^ a b c James S Kunen, "Margaret Keane's Artful Case Proves That She—and Not Her Ex-Husband—made Waifs," People, 23 June 1986
  5. ^ “The big-eyed children: the extraordinary story of an epic art fraud”, “The Guardian”, October 26, 2014, Retrieved 2014-10-28.
  6. ^,13636/

External links[edit]