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This story first appeared in the Sept. 26 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Fans of Margaret Keane might be perplexed by a recent spike in online sales activity for the 87-year-old artist, whose paintings of wide-eyed children were the height of 1960s and ’70s kitsch. EBay lately has been glutted with framed prints, lithographs and very small paintings of very big eyes now selling for $8,500 a pop. Most of the items look as if they’ve been dragged out of the attic.
It’s due in part to Tim Burton‘s new Big Eyes, which stars Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz and focuses on the artist’s abusive marriage and legal fight for rights to paintings for which her ex, Walter Keane, had taken credit. Many of her most recognizable works will be seen in the Dec. 25 film, which no doubt will spark interest from a new generation.
Hollywood collectors long have loved Keane. She painted a glamorous Kim Novak and portrayed Jerry Lewis and his family and pets as harlequins. Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner posed for portraits. Joan Crawford put two Keane paintings in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and used her Keane portrait on the cover of her autobiography. And Keane has painted Burton muses Lisa Marie (and their Chihuahua) and Helena Bonham Carter.
“Burton also owns an extensive collection of her work,” says Robert L. Brown of the Keane Eyes Gallery in San Francisco. Are Keane’s paintings a good investment? “If you’d had a chance to buy an original Andy Warhol for $15,000 or $20,000,” asks Brown, “would you have?”
The phenomenon of movies leading to a spike in art sales is not unusual.
“Movies about an artist have an effect similar to museum retrospective exhibitions,” says art attorney Joshua Roth of Glaser Weil. “The art world is an overpopulated landscape and both can raise the awareness levels and cause a dramatic spike in sales of an artist’s work.”
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Representation in Hollywood