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Peter Doig Authentication Trial Heats Up

Scottish-born artist Peter Doig took the stand on August 15 to defend himself against allegations that he produced a potentially valuable painting more than forty years ago.  The painting’s current owner, former Thunder Bay corrections officer Robert Fletcher, claims he purchased the work directly from Doig in 1976 while the artist was serving a sentence for a drug conviction.  Doig says he was never in Thunder Bay at the time the work was painted, and that the painting’s owner has mistaken him with amateur artist Peter E. Doige who died in 2012.  The dead man’s half-sister has also come forward to defend Doig.  Fletcher, who stands to make millions if the painting is eventually tied to Doig, says the more famous artist is disavowing his early work to hide a criminal past. 

Up to this point, the trial has focused primarily on the testimony of art experts.  Authenticators for both sides offered technical evidence in the trial last week.  One expert for the plaintiffs argued that minor stylistic similarities can be seen in Doig’s known works and the painting in question.  That argument was dismissed by the defense’s expert who said the technical comparisons were unconvincing.  “If you go looking for coincidences, you’ll find them,” he said.  

Peter Doig testified on Monday.  Much of his time on the stand was spent recounting his whereabouts forty years ago.  During what some observers described as a particularly contentious cross-examination, Doig was asked to provide a timeline for the summer of 1976.  He offered details on his summer jobs, former friends, ski trips and even his high school year book photo.  According to one source, the more Doig tried to account for his past, “the more it seemed like making the painting was a crime for which he had to provide an air-tight alibi.”  

The case of Fletcher et al v. Doig et al. is being watched closely by many in the art community.  Dealers, artists, appraisers and collectors are concerned that a precedent is being set whereby other artists will be called forward in the future to disprove authorship of works attributed to them.  The trial in the Doig case is set to resume on August 16.


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