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Artist Sued For Disavowing Painting

Scottish artist Peter Doig finds himself in the awkward positon of proving he didn’t paint a work attributed to him.  Doig, whose colorful “dream-like” landscapes sell for millions of dollars when offered at auction, is at the center of a law suit recently filed in the United States District Court in Northern Illinois.  According to a statement of facts filed in the case, Canadian resident Robert William Fletcher, a former correctional officer from Ontario and the owner of the painting at the center of the suit, believes he owns a Doig acrylic on canvas that the artist painted more than forty years ago.  During the period 1975 to 1976, Fletcher says he was friends with a Scottish student named Peter “Doige” who attended classes with Fletcher at Lakeland University in Thunder Bay.  Fletcher claims he obtained the painting from Doige after the younger man (Doige was 17 at the time) received a five year sentence at the Thunder Bay correctional facility for drug possession in 1976.  Fletcher, who worked at the correctional institution at the time and later became Doige’s parole officer, watched Doige paint the untitled work in the prison’s art program.  Fletcher later purchased the work directly from Doige for $100, according to court documents.

Although the two men lost track of one another after Doige’s release from prison, Fletcher kept the painting and only learned of its potential value after a friend alerted him to Peter Doig’s international fame.  Fletcher then consigned the painting to an art gallery in Chicago whose owner emailed Peter Doig for assistance selling the work.  Later, the painting was scheduled for auction at Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Inc. in Chicago.  There was only one problem.  Peter Doig says he never painted Fletcher’s work.  Although the untitled acrylic is signed “Pete Doige 76” and shares “uncanny commonalities in composition and execution with known works by Doig”, according to the Chicago art dealer, Doig’s lawyers claim both Fletcher and the art dealer are mistaken.  They say their client was not in Thunder Bay, Ontario in 1975 or 1976; that Doig never met Fletcher, because Doig was never incarcerated; and that another man with a similar name actually painted the work in question.  Doig’s attorneys also presented a signed affidavit from the “true” artist’s sister swearing her brother, Peter Edward Doige (now deceased), actually created the work.  The questionable Doig/Doige painting was eventually pulled from the Leslie Hindman auction and Fletcher and the art gallery owner sued Peter Doig for $5 million, alleging harm and “loss of a lucrative opportunity.”  Although Doig petitioned the court to dismiss the case, United States District Court Judge Gary Feinerman ruled that the case could go forward.  Trial has been set for next month.

Regardless of the outcome of Fletcher et al v. Doig et al, the coming trail will be watched closely by those in the art community.  According to art experts interviewed by Graham Bowley, a journalist who has covered the case for The New York Times, artists everywhere may suddenly find themselves in the unenviable positon of having to disprove works attributed to them.


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