Artist Has Right to Disclaim a Painting

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Nov 2, 2016

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Woman in museum An unusual art law dispute has led to a court ruling that an artist is free to say that he didn’t paint a work claimed to be his.

The judge held that

An artist is well within his rights to ensure that works he did not create are not sold under his name.

Prison Art

Scottish figurative painter Peter Doig was sued by Robert Fletcher, the owner of the painting at issue.

Fletcher, a former corrections officer, claimed that Doig had created the painting as a teenager while imprisoned at the Thunder Bay Correction Center in Canada and that Doig had sold him the painting for $100.

When Fletcher tried to sell the painting to a Chicago art dealer, Doig denied having painted it. Doig said the painting was the work of another artist with a similar name: Peter Edward Doige.

Fletcher admitted that the young man he bought the painting from spelled his name “Doige.” Doige was taking classes at a local college in Thunder Bay. Like Doig, he was from Scotland.

A student ID card for Doige at Lakehead University lists a birthdate of 1955, which would have made him about 21 when he signed the painting in 1976.

Doig was 16 or 17 in 1976 and said he has never been imprisoned and was never in Thunder Bay.

Doige was imprisoned on a charge of taking LSD. Fletcher said he watched him create the painting and later became his parole officer.

Famous Artist

Five years ago, Fletcher said a friend recognized the name on the painting and told him it was by a famous artist. Fletcher watched a video of Doig speaking and said that he recognized the young man who had sold him the painting.

The painting at issue includes numerous features associated with Doig’s work, including, according to the Times, “a horizontal striped landscape, a body of water, logs protruding from a lake, even white lichen on the trees.”

The Lawsuit

Fletcher sued Doig for $10 million, which is what he said the painting would bring at auction if authenticated by Doig. He and his dealer were also seeking a court declaration that the painting is authentic.

According to the New York Times, Doig’s paintings have sold for more than $25 million and commonly sell at auction for $10 million.

The Evidence

Doig and his family members testified at trial in the Federal District Court for Northern Illinois. Doig’s mother and sister said that he couldn’t have been in prison when he was said to have created the painting. Doig’s sister had written to their mother in 1977 that her brother had phoned from Edmonton during the time period at issue.

Thunder Bay is 15 hours north of Toronto and about 1300 miles from Edmonton.

Doig also presented evidence from the sister of Doige, who died in 2012. Doige’s sister said that he had attended Lakehead University and had been incarcerated in Thunder Bay.

Challenging Attribution

As the Times notes, disputes about the authenticity of paintings usually involve long-dead artists.

But Picasso, among other artists, challenged the authenticity of work attributed to him during his lifetime. Even Gilbert Stuart denied painting the famous portrait of George Washington attributed to him that hangs in the East Room of the White House.

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