There is a fascinating case in in Chicago where famed artist Peter Doig is being sued for millions of dollars. The reason? He had the audacity of denying that a painting is his own. That’s right. Doig denied that a painting of a landscape was done by him as a young man in Canada. With past Doig paintings going for as high as $25 million, a former correctional officer Robert Fletcher, 62, wants a legal determination that Doig either can’t or refuses to acknowledge his own work. Fletcher, who bought the painting for $100 in 1975, is pulling Doig into court and a federal judge has scheduled the matter for adjudication. I have never seen such an attempt at authentication-by-litigation lawsuit.
Fletcher said that he bought the painting in Thunder Bay near Toronto from a young man who was taking art classes at a local college, Lakehead University. The young man was convicted of an LSD offense and sent to a prison farm where Fletcher worked. That is where Fletcher said that he tried to help the young man and bought a painting signed “Pete Doige 76.”
Many years later, a friend saw the painting and said it was from a famous artist. Fletcher and an art dealer said that the painting reflects Doig’s signature, magical landscapes. However, when the painting was put up for auction, a picture was sent to Doig, 57, who responded “Nice painting. Not by me.” His paintings like the one to the left often involve landscapes and abstraction.
The denial spoiled the deal worth tens of millions.
Fletcher insists that Doig is misremembering events when he did LSD. Fletcher says that he was watching tapes of Doig and is “100 percent convinced that this is the man and that this is the painting I own.” His lawyers insist that there is a gap in Doig’s teenage years in Canada that coincides with the period when this painting was purchased.Fletcher says that Doig was taking art classes at a local college, Lakehead University.
Doig says it is just a guy with a similar name and insists that, while he grew up in Canada before attending art school in England, he was only 16 or 17 and lived in Toronto. He insists that he has never been to Thunder Bay and more importantly he was never incarcerated. That last point is key since there are records of incarceration and that connection is central to Fletcher’s account. Doig also maintains that he did not start painting on canvas under late 1979 and, until 1979, did only pencil and ink drawing on paper. He also noted that he has never used acrylic paint on canvas.
Further undermining the case is the fact that Doig’s lawyers have identified a Peter Edward Doige, who they say is the real artist. Doige died in 2012 but his sister confirmed that he had attended Lakehead University, served time in Thunder Bay and painted. Moreover, there is the expected testimony from the prison’s former art teacher who says that he recognized and remember Doige from his class and recalls his painting this particular painting.
With no record of Doig being incarcerated at the prison, it is hard to see how Fletcher could prevail on these facts. Conversely Doig has records, letters, and photos for the period of 1975-76 that refute suggestions that he was in Thunder Bay.
Nevertheless, Judge Gary Feinerman of U.S. District Court for Northern Illinois has decided that the case warranted a trial. That presents a considerable financial burden for the artist who merely denied that a painting was one of his early works.