Are you settling in to 2015? This year will bring us many commemorations of 50th anniversaries from world events of 1965. In North Beach in San Francisco, 1965 included good Italian restaurants, performances of soon-to-be-stars in clubs such as the hungry i, and the height of popularity of a collection of paintings of children with big eyes. Now the true story about those paintings is being told to a worldwide audience.
Here is a clip from the CBS Morning News that tells the basic story:
Walter Keane was a very flamboyant North Beach character who made a deal with club impresario Enrico Banducci to show the big eyes paintings in the hungry i nightclub. As the paintings became popular, and the Keanes became wealthy, Walter’s wife Margaret realized that Walter was taking the credit for painting the images. Walter even created a story about his experiences in seeing sad children after World War 2 as the inspiration for his art. Here is the trailer for the movie “Big Eyes” that shows the development of an epic art fraud:
Margaret Keane left Walter in 1965, moved to Honolulu, and got a divorce. In 1970, she announced on a radio broadcast that she was the real artist behind the paintings. Walter continued to claim he was the artist, and in 1986, Margaret sued Walter for slander for his misrepresentations in a newspaper story.
At the trial, a federal judge directed both Walter and Margaret to paint a child with big eyes in his courtroom in front of the jury. In 54 minutes, Margaret presented her painting and Walter said he could not paint due to a sore shoulder. The jury found for Margaret and awarded her $ 4 million. The monetary award was reversed on appeal but the judgment about who was the painter stands.
Walter died in 2000 at age 85. Margaret lives with her daughter in Wine Country and is still painting at age 87. Her paintings are now sold at the Keane Eyes Gallery near Ghirardelli Square, just blocks from North Beach.