Court Orders Artist Peter Doig to Prove He Didn’t Create This Canvas

"This case is a scam," the artist says.

Peter Doige, desert landscape. Courtesy ARIS Title ‏@ARIS_ArgoGroup via Twitter.
Peter Doige, desert landscape. Courtesy ARIS Title ‏@ARIS_ArgoGroup via Twitter.

In one of the most bizarre authentication cases in recent memory, Scottish artist Peter Doig has been ordered by a court to prove that he wasn’t the artist who created a disputed painting.

A 62-year-old former corrections officer, Robert Fletcher, claims he is the owner of a desert landscape Doig purportedly painted while serving time as a young inmate at the Thunder Bay Correctional Center, located in Northwestern Ontario. Fletcher says he bought the work for $100 in 1975 from a man named Peter Doige (spelled with and ‘e’). Fletcher and his lawyers are seeking $5 million in damages and a court ordered declaration of authenticity.

Doig, however, maintains that while he did grow up in Canada, he has never been to Thunder Bay, and was never incarcerated. He also denies that the contentious work contains similarities to his paintings, which sell for millions at auction.

“This case is a scam, and I’m being forced to jump through hoops to prove my whereabouts over 40 years ago,” he told the New York Times.

Gordon VeneKlasen of New York’s Michael Werner Gallery—which represents the artist—tells the Times he is worried about the implications. “In our case, the artist and the dealer have the resources to carry on this fight, but I wonder about all the artists who might not. Do they simply acquiesce and let inauthentic works into the market if they are the product of a similar attempt at bullying and rampant greed?”

Indeed, the value of Doig’s work is significant. According to artnet’s Price Database, his auction record stands at $25.9 million for Swamped (1990), set at Christie’s New York in May 2015.

Doig and his legal team have identified the artist they say painted the disputed work, a man called Peter Edward Doige, who died in 2012. Doige’s sister also admitted that he was in fact imprisoned at Thunder Bay and that he was known to paint.

Despite this information, a federal judge in Chicago said that the evidence is “not strong enough” to prove that Doig “was not the person at Thunder Bay who was the author of the painting,” and set the trial to begin next month.

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