Survey of Arts Management

Course blog for American University PERF-570, Fall 2014

The Extroardinary Story of an Epic Art Fraud

So much of how we engage audiences today is through directly connecting the artists with their audiences and creating dialogue between them. People love to talk with the artists about their work and the process by which they achieve such an aesthetic. This article explores the fascinating story of the Big Eyed Children paintings previously credited to Walter Keane. Sold by the millions in the 1960s, these pieces were all actually the work of his wife Margaret. While Walter was in Europe to learn to paint, he met and charmed Margaret. He took ownership at a party displaying her paintings early on and from then on demanded Margaret continue to produce work for him to sell under his own name. It was not until the 70s that Margaret finally decided to discontinue creating for the purpose of her husband’s fame and fortune and they soon divorced.

This story has a lot of social implications pertaining to gender and family. There are new stories all the time informing us that Bach’s wife actually composed some of his most beloved works and Shakespeare took credit for plays he didn’t write and women took pen names to conceal their true identity as a woman. How will the people who love Keane’s paintings will be affected based on their knowledge of the actual painter’s identity? Can an art work still be appreciated to the fullest apart from its creator?

big-eyed children


2 comments on “The Extroardinary Story of an Epic Art Fraud

  1. gormleykimberly
    October 27, 2014

    Same deal with Rodin! His mistress, Camille Claudel produced and/or collaborated with the artist on dozens of pieces attributed exclusively to Rodin. I think this practice of miss attribution is much less common in today’s age, but who knows? Can anyone think of more modern examples?

  2. cayleycarroll
    October 29, 2014

    What a harrowing story! Margaret’s plight definitely gives the big eye paintings more depth and intrigue. Hopefully the people that have appreciated this art will continue to do so, but in a new way. Especially after the Tim Burton biopic.
    Man..that Walter Keane was such a schmuck!

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