Free Press Journal

US judge sides with artist forced to prove painting is not his


Chicago: In a court case with repercussions for the art world and millions of dollars at stake, a US judge ruled in favour of an artist who was sued for denying a painting was his.

A US District Court judge in Chicago decided that Peter Doig, a world-famous artist who insists he did not create a desert landscape painting, is telling the truth.

The man who owns the disputed piece of art, a retired Canadian corrections officer by the name of Robert Fletcher, sued Doig for refusing to acknowledge that the painting is one of his works — which means its value is significantly diminished.

Judge Gary Feinerman ruled that there was “conclusive” evidence that Doig did not paint the disputed work, and that he had the right to say a painting was not his.

The facts surrounding the case date back to Canada in the 1970s, when Fletcher met a man named Peter Doige – spelled with an e — and watched him study art while jailed for a drug offence.

Fletcher says he remembers being impressed by one of Doige’s paintings of a desert landscape in golden hues – an acrylic painting on linen. He bought it for USD 100 in the hopes of keeping Doige from going back to selling drugs.

Decades later, a friend saw the painting hanging in Fletcher’s home and said it was in fact the work of Peter Doig, whose creations can command USD 10 million at auction. Fletcher spoke with Chicago-based art dealer Peter Bartlow, who agreed to sell the work.

But Doig denied every element of Fletcher’s story –painting the work, meeting Fletcher or being incarcerated in Canada.

Doig’s lawyers pointed to a Canadian man named Peter Doige, who was a carpenter and amateur painter.

He died in 2012 but his life story seemed to closely match the circumstances surrounding the painting’s creation. Feinerman concluded that “an artist is well within his rights to ensure that works that he did not create are not sold or offered under his name. The artist has a right to protect his reputation.”

Fletcher and Bartlow said they did not know yet whether they would appeal their case, but they remain convinced that their painting is a Doig.

Those in the art world have raised concerns that the case could be a green light for wealthy patrons to sue artists if they disavow a work or — as has happened in the past – disown a work that they had previously acknowledged creating.