McGill University Removes a Norval Morrisseau Painting Over Fraud Concerns

The university has promised to provide the results of the investigation into the legitimacy of the painting.

Norval Morrisseau. Photo by Jeff Goode/Toronto Star via Getty Images

A painting by the artist Norval Morrisseau, a member of the Bingwi Neyaashi Anishinaabek First Nation, has been removed from display at McGill University pending a review of its authenticity.

The painting Shaman Surrounded by Ancestral Spirit Totem (1977) was deemed to have characteristics similar to other works that were part of a police investigation into art fraud, the Globe and Mail reported. Artnet News has reached out for more information but did not hear back by press time.

Morrisseau created the “heavily stylized” oil painting toward the end of his career, according to a listing of the work on McGill’s website. It depicts a shaman entering the spirit plane and the surrounding spirit animals that protect him on his journey using semi-abstract forms and vibrant colors.

In March 2023, Ontario Provincial Police arrested eight people tied to an art forgery ring that allegedly produced and sold paintings attributed to Morrisseau, who died in 2007. The first of the suspects, 61-year-old Gary Lamont, was sentenced to five years in jail in December. Others charged in the forgery ring include Benjamin Paul Morrisseau, a nephew of the late artist.

The university told The Globe and Mail in a statement that the work was removed for security reasons and has started an investigation into the authenticity of the painting, even though the school has not yet been approached by police.

The painting was donated to the museum in 2013 and appraised and authenticated at the time, university spokesperson Michel Proulx added. Still, researcher John Zemanovich and Jonathan Sommer, a lawyer who specializes in art fraud, said it has a few characteristics at odds with Morrisseau’s work. For example, Sommer said the painting’s colors don’t have the balance of Morrisseau’s other works.

Sommer said the university should turn the painting over to police if its review determines the work to be a fake. Proulx promised to provide the public with the results of the investigation after its completion.

In January, the Ontario Legislative Assembly removed another painting, Salmon Life Giving Spawn, after the newspaper raised concerns from Sommer and Morrisseau’s estate. That painting, on display at Queen’s Park, was handed over to the police for investigation.


Follow Artnet News on Facebook:

Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.
Article topics