William Stanley “Billy” Milligan
[February 14, 1955 – December 12, 2014]
Because Billy Milligan was such a prolific artist, there is a large number of his paintings (and many drawings) scattered around the country. Finding them may be difficult.
Probably most of them started out in Ohio (where he grew up and where he was in prison and/or mental hospitals for many years and where he spent the last several years before he died in 2014) or California (where he lived during most of the 1990s.)
No doubt, many pieces of his artwork will have scattered and migrated away from their original locations as they have been sold or given to others.
At various periods during his life, many people acquired Milligan’s paintings as part of a barter arrangement when Billy was suffering financial problems. Sometimes, Billy simply gave his art away to people who were nice to him.
As an artist, Milligan worked quickly and, according to his therapist, Dr. David Caul, could turn out a large oil painting in a couple of days.
Dr. Caul had suggested to Billy that, as part of his therapy, he should paint the various personalities. Billy found the task difficult and destroyed his first few attempts.
The final result showed only 7 personalities, including Kevin (far right), one of the “undesirables” who had been banned from “the spot.” Milligan told Caul that trying to paint all 24 would result in a loss of resolution — that he would not be able to put enough detail into so many individuals on a single canvas.
Sometimes, the subject matter and the style of his paintings would reflect the stress Billy was experiencing and might provide clues about the turmoil in his mind.
“Art is the best therapy in the world.”
— Dorothy Moore (Billy’s mother)
Those who have read Daniel Keyes’ The Minds of Billy Milligan, (or who have read about Milligan on the internet) already know that several of Billy’s alter personalities were artists, each painting in his own style.
– Tommy (age 16) painted landscapes.
– Allen painted portraits.
– Ragen (who was color-blind) would paint and draw in black and white.
– Danny (age 14) painted only still lifes.
When drawing or painting portraits, Billy usually worked from photographs rather than live models.
Regardless of which personality did the painting, most all of the paintings he created in the 1980s were signed “Billy” (sometimes with the year.)
Daniel Keyes suggested that for the individual artists to reveal themselves by signing a painting was dangerous — especially while in a mental institution — since it might call attention to the fact that the “core Billy” was not “fused.”
Later, especially after 2000, Billy Milligan seems to have “come out of the closet” as a “multiple” and some of the individual personalities began to sign their own paintings.
But also, according to the The Minds of Billy Milligan, there were 5 “rules” established by Arthur and Ragen for all the personalities. Those who did not follow the rules would not be permitted to take the “spot.” The fifth rule in the passage below, addresses the signing and “ownership” of the paintings…
Professionals who appraise art have had a difficult time assigning a value to paintings by Billy Milligan. Some claim that a few of his paintings would need to be sold at a reputable auction house to establish their value in the marketplace.
One art auction house in Ohio says that because of the violent nature of Millilgan’s crimes, they have generally turned down offers to sell his works.
Very likely, the value of the paintings is based not so much on the artistic quality of his technique and style (which improved significantly over the years) as it is on the notoriety of Milligan.
Since Milligan’s death (December 12, 2014), his paintings have, no doubt, increased in value. An artist’s death always cuts off the supply, establishes scarcity in the marketplace and, often, creates a renewed interest in the artist and the body of work.
Now, with the announcement that Leonardo DiCaprio will be portraying Milligan in a forthcoming Hollywood feature (“The Crowded Room”) based on The Minds of Billy Milligan, the increased national publicity will continue to fuel the demand and, therefore, the value of existing Milligan paintings should rise.
In economics, it’s simple “supply and demand.” As the demand rises for a limited or scarce resource, the price goes up.
What Is the VALUE of a Billy Milligan Painting?
Any work of art is worth as much (and only as much) as the person buying it is willing (and able) to pay to own it.
That’s the nature of financial transactions in the marketplace.
However, it’s important to understand that all “value” is actually “perceived value.”
And that means that a painting may (simultaneously) be “worth”
$25, $100, $1000, $25,000, $100,000, or even a million dollars — to different people.
Someone who has read The Minds of Billy Milligan will, very likely, place a higher value on Milligan’s paintings than someone who knows nothing about him.
Someone else (even someone who dislikes or who doesn’t believe Milligan was a “multiple”), who senses that the paintings will appreciate in value with the release of DiCaprio’s movie (in 2017), may value the paintings simply for their investment opportunity.
Yet another person, who doesn’t know who Billy Milligan is — and is simply looking for a nice landscape to hang above their sofa — may not be willing to pay the asking price for one of “Tommy’s” landscapes (since thousands of other, less-expensive landscape paintings would serve the same purpose.)
So, the task for the seller is to find the “right” buyer — someone who can not only afford the seller’s asking price but who also values the painting enough to justify that price. That may require “educating” the buyer so they can better understand why the painting is unique and “valuable.”
The more the potential buyer understands the history and nature of the work — how it fits into Milligan’s overall body of work and why it may be exceptional — the more they may see the “value” in owning the painting and, consequently, the more they may be willing to pay for it.
Of course, they must also have trust and confidence in the seller and feel secure in knowing that the artwork is original.
Provenance is the source or origin of the artwork. Buyers should ask for the history of the artwork they’re considering buying: when and where it was painted, who acquired it from Milligan, and the dates and circumstances under which it changed hands.
If you were buying a second-hand car, then along with an accurate odometer reading, you would also want to see that the seller has the title and other legal paperwork for the vehicle.
However, you would also want to know the history of the vehicle — the previous owner(s), accidents, major repairs, locations and circumstances under which the vehicle was driven.
For example, a used car which was located in New Orleans during a hurricane might have undergone water damage. And if you were considering a car from San Francisco, you might need to check the clutch and the brake-linings to see how much wear and tear they suffered from years of navigating steep hills. A car from a northern city or near the ocean may have suffered rust damage from the salt used on the winter roads.
If the seller is a well-organized individual who has maintained a nice, tidy, log book in which they recorded the mileage with every tank of gas or oil change, along with repair records and receipts for major purchases like new tires, mufflers, and timing belts, then you would probably feel even more confident about making the purchase.
Similarly, the buyer of a piece of original artwork wants to feel confident about what it is they’re buying.
Ideally, accompanying the painting or drawing there will be a “Letter or Certificate of Authenticity” signed and dated by Billy Milligan. However, in many cases — especially for his earlier paintings — that may not exist.
Mostly, Milligan painted for recreation, pleasure, and sometimes therapy — not to promote himself or to create valuable artwork. Like many artists, he was not accomplished at business skills.
If there is no “Certificate of Authenticity” available, then the seller must otherwise be able to convince the potential buyer that the painting is an original. The more documentation available the better. Notarized statements by individuals who can attest to its authenticity may help.
Because the buyer may want to re-sell the painting in the future, they will need to be able to justify its value to a future buyer. So the more documentation that accompanies the artwork, the more confident the buyer will be in paying a fair price for the painting.
Some of Milligan’s paintings will be worth more to a buyer because of the circumstances under which they were painted.
For example, the portrait (above) of the 7 alter personalities would probably be worth far more than other Milligan paintings simply because it was painted as part of his therapy at the Mental Hospital in Athens and it depicts the appearance of personalities which only Milligan could see.
Also, this painting was originally owned by Dr. David Caul who uses the painting to describe each of the personalities in the 2-hour documentary, “Billy” — produced in 1985. (You can see this painting in the 6-minute excerpt below.)
Therefore, even without a Certificate of Authenticity, a buyer could feel confident about purchasing this particular painting. And, the fact that it was owned by Dr. Caul would probably increase the value of the painting because it makes it more rare since, at the time, Dr. Caul was one of the national authorities on the treatment of multiple personality (which is why Milligan was sent to Athens for treatment.)
Similarly, paintings which were once owned by Daniel Keyes, Billy’s attorney, an important prison official, (or any other documented individual who was known to be a significant part of Billy Milligan’s life) may be worth more to a buyer.
Those paintings signed by a particular personality (rather than “Billy”) might be worth more to a collector.
And, paintings created during a significant time in Milligan’s life — the year he was arrested for the rapes or the months he was missing in 1986 before being captured by the FBI — might be more valuable to some collectors.
If you are selling a Milligan painting, be sure to pull together as much of provenance as you can.
If you are a buyer, make sure to do your “due diligence” so that you can feel confident about your purchase.
NOTE: Due diligence is “an investigation of a business or person prior to signing a contract.”
Some of Milligan’s paintings can be seen in this 6-minute excerpt from the 2-hour documentary — “Billy” — produced in 1985…
Learn more about Billy Milligan at