That art isn't mine! A strange case of mistaken authentication.

Topaz ?
Author Topaz ?
Collection Art Mind Meld

Imagine you're a painter, and your work becomes famous (hooray).

Now imagine that someone else claims a painting is yours--but it isn't. You've never seen the painting before now. What's more, that person is claiming they watched you paint it in a place you've never spent time in your life. 

If you're renowned Scottish painter Peter Doig (who is still very much alive and well), you don't have to imagine this level of weirdness. You've already lived it. 

A U.S. district court judge ruled on August 23, 2016 that Doig did indeed not paint the painting in question. But the legal battle is strange, interesting, and could have implications for artists in the future.

At issue: This desert landscape signed 'Pete Doige'. Image: @ARIS_ArgoGroup on Twitter


Peter Doig's paintings regularly command large sums of money. If a painting is authenticated as his, it might fetch as much as US $25.9 million--as one painting did in 2015.

That's why a former corrections officer named Robert Fletcher wanted to authenticate a painting he claimed to witness Doig create while the latter man was allegedly serving time in the Thunder Bay Correctional Centre in Ontario. Fletcher claimed that Doig created the painting above in 1976, while in his care.

Doig repeatedly said the painting wasn't his. So Fletcher and art dealer Peter Bartlow sued for $7.9 million and the rights to sell this painting as a Doig work. After a seven day trial, the case was decided in Doig's favor.


When is a living artist's word on ownership of a piece not enough? It's true that artists are humans, with human motivations. They're not perfect, and may have their own reasons for lying (perhaps in acrimonious battles with ex-lovers). 

Correctional facilities have records. Doig claims he's never been to Thunder Bay, let alone spent time in the penal system there. He admitted to having once been arrested in London for stealing a sweater when he was poor and cold, but that's the extent of his brushes with the law. 

The signature on the painting reads 'Pete Doige.' With an 'E.' Doig presumably knows how to spell his own name. What's more, Doig's defense team brought in both the sister and live-in girlfriend of one Peter Doige, who himself had died in 2012. They swore under oath that Doige (with an 'e') did actually attend college in Thunder Bay in the '70s, painted, and had done time in prison there. Hrrm.

Read the Chicago Reader's courtside reporting on this case here:

Read several art law experts' take on this case's outcome and implications here:

Here's hoping Doig can at least recover the costs of his defense. 

#PeterDoig #artlaw #authentication #legalbattles #strangecases

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