Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Big-eyed art fraud

Margaret & Walter & children

I'm looking forward to the Tim Burton biopic on the big-eyed art fraud of the century. Walter Keane's 1960s paintings of big-eyed children were apparently really created by his wife, Margaret. The Guardian did a very nice story about it. There was one passage in particular that struck me:

"This story begins in Berlin in 1946. A young American named Walter Keane was in Europe to learn how to be a painter. And there he was, staring heartbroken at the big-eyed children fighting over scraps of food in the rubbish. As he would later write: “As if goaded by a kind of frantic despair, I sketched these dirty, ragged little victims of the war with their bruised, lacerated minds and bodies, their matted hair and runny noses. Here my life as a painter began in earnest.”"

The bit about his life as a painter is a lie, apparently, but the bit about the children rings true to me. As it happens, my mother was one of those ragged post-war children in Berlin. She doesn't have any stories of fighting with the other children, but she does have plenty of stories about running along trains full of GIs throwing sweets and sliced white bread from the windows. And picking crumbs of coal from the gravel, then carrying them home in a tin to heat their little flat. Knowing how fastidious my grandma was, I can't see my mother's hair being matted, no matter how poor they were. But as for the bruised minds, yes, that's probably quite an accurate description. So amid all of Keane's lies, there are some little coal-crumbs of truth.

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