Walter Stanley Keane (7 October 1915–27 December 2000) was an American plagiarist who became famous in the 1960s as claimed painter of a series of widely reproduced paintings depicting vulnerable waifs with enormous eyes. The paintings were in fact painted by his wife, Margaret Keane. When she made this fact public, Walter Keane retaliated with a USA Today article that again claimed he had done the work. In 1986, Margaret Keane sued Walter and USA Today; in the subsequent slander suit, the judge demanded that the litigants paint a painting in the courtroom, but Walter declined, citing a sore shoulder. Margaret then produced a painting for the jurors in fifty-three minutes and the jury awarded her damages of $4 million. The subject of Walter and Margaret Keane life together was depicted in the 2014 Tim Burton film Big Eyes.
- Well, I first, uh, started doing this after World War II when I was kind of tramping around France, Germany, and the lowlands, and I came upon these frightened, waif-type children, and, uh, they actually looked like rats running around and they acted like it. And, uh, I started painting this type of thing of these chi—these children, they didn't even seem to know why—these children didn't even seem to know how to talk; they couldn't even pray. And it started like, uh, an artist work—it-it does—you don't know how to talk about it, but the painting can talk for you, and I think this is the difference between an artist and a poet and a writer: in other words, an artist, uh, paints what he has to say, where other people do it in, uh, in more verbal type of…
Cited by Jane Howard
- Jane Howard, "The Man Who Paints Those Big Eyes: The Phenomenal Success of Walter Keane," LIFE 59, no. 9 (27 August 1965), pp. 39–40, 42–45, 48.
- Let's face it, nobody could paint eyes like El Greco, and nobody can paint eyes like Walter Keane.
- Referring to himself in the third person, page 39. Cited also in "The lady behind those Keane-eyed kids," LIFE 69, no. 21 (20 November 1970), p. 56; by Amy M. Spindler, "Style; An Eye for an Eye," The New York Times (23 May 1999); and by Jesse Hamlin, "Artist Margaret Keane hasn't lost wide-eyed enthusiasm for work," SFGate (14 Decembet 2014).
- We don't criticize them, so why criticize Walter Keane just because his symbol of humanity is a child?
- My psyche was scarred in my art student days in Europe, just after World War II, by an ineradicable memory of war-wracked innocents. In their eyes lurk all of mankind's questions and answers. If mankind would look deep into the soul of the very young, he wouldn't need a road map. I wanted other people to know about those eyes, too. I want my paintings to clobber you in the heart and make you yell, "DO SOMETHING!"
- Page 42.
- I don't really care what people think of me. Whatever anyone may say, I've helped the whole art world, just as Picasso and Dalí have. I've made people aware of painting, which makes them buy more, just like they go buy more records and books once they're exposed.
- Page 48.
About Walter Keane
- It takes dispassionate bravado to speak of oneself in the third person. Walter has such bravado: it is one of the chief reasons for his success.
- Jane Howard, "The Man Who Paints Those Big Eyes: The Phenomenal Success of Walter Keane," LIFE 59, no. 9 (27 August 1965), p. 39.
Cited by Jane Howard
- It was the eyes that did it. [timid giggle] I liked the way he painted eyes and he liked mine.
- Stated at a time when Margaret Keane was still going along with the fraud that her husband was the painter of the Big Eyed waifs.
- Cited by Jane Howard, "The Man Who Paints Those Big Eyes: The Phenomenal Success of Walter Keane," LIFE 59, no. 9 (27 August 1965), p. 45.
Cited in "The lady behind those Keane-eyed kids"
- He can't paint eyes. He couldn't learn to paint at all.
- But it was a real nightmare when Walter threatened to kill me and our two daughters if we told anyone.
Cited by Jesse Hamlin
- Jesse Hamlin, "Artist Margaret Keane hasn't lost wide-eyed enthusiasm for work," SFGate (14 December 2014).
- He'd threatened me so many times. I thought he was so crazy he could hire a hit man to come get me anytime.
- Walter was extremely charming. He could charm anybody, especially women.
- I lost all respect for him and myself, and lived in a nightmare.