But, in fact, his wife Margaret was the artist, working in virtual slavery to maintain his success.
Tim Burton’s engaging bio-pic, Big Eyes, tells her story, with Amy Adams playing Margaret and Christoph Waltz her husband Walter, who deceived the art world for years until she divorced him and told the world of her plight.
A court case ensued in Hawaii where Walter maintained he was the true artist, until the judge applied the litmus test and asked the couple to each paint a picture – which Margaret did. He refused, saying he had pains in his arms.
Big Eyes comes across as Burton’s most personal and heartfelt offering in years, manoeuvring with style around the story and executing it all without resorting to the often-bizarre flourishes of past work. It doesn’t have the visually eccentric and Gothic-tinged feel we would normally expect from this off-beat director.
This is a sensible, straight-forward re-telling of art history in the 50s and 60s.
We first meet Margaret Ulbrich (Adams) who is fleeing her first marrriage with her young daughter Jane in tow. She relocates to San Francisco where she encounters the flamboyant landscape painter Walter Keane (Waltz) at one of those “artists under the sun” events.
Margaret, an artist, concentrates on painting variations on a theme: waifs with exaggeratedly large eyes. After a whirlwind courtship, Margaret and Walter are married and that’s when the trouble starts.
Walter does a deal with a local nightclub owner to display his and Margaret’s paintings. When hers sell and his doesn’t he begins to pass off her art as his own. When she discovers what he’s doing, she’s upset but reluctantly agrees to promote the sham.
A fascinating work.