In what has been deemed a victory for artists’ and their “unfettered right” to authenticate their own work, the Federal District Court for Northern Illinois yesterday (23 August) ruled in favour of Scottish figurative painter Peter Doig.
As we reported on 11 August, Doig was being sued for US$5 million (£3.8 million) by the owner of a painting for failing to authenticate it as his own work. Former corrections officer Robert Fletcher claimed Doig created the work as a teenager while incarcerated at the Thunder Bay Correction Center in Canada and sold it to him for US$100 (£76.70). When Fletcher attempted to sell the disputed painting with Chicago art dealer Peter Bartlow, Doig denied authorship of the painting and consequently the US$10 million (£7.6 million) price tag it would have carried at auction. Doig insisted that the work’s true creator was another artist, Peter Edward Doige, and in a statement, he criticised Fletcher and Bartlow for having “shamelessly tried to deny another artist his legacy for money”.
Judge Gary Feinerman reached his verdict after reviewing the evidence from Peter Doig and his mother Mary and hearing testimony from Peter Doige’s sister, Marilyn Doige Bavard. He held that Doig and his mother had provided “unmistakable and unimpeachable evidence”, which demonstrated the artist could not have been in prison at the time he was said to have painted the disputed work. This included a letter from Mary Doig to her own mother in 1977 stating that ‘Peter phoned from Edmonton’, details which Feinerman held Mary would have had no reason to fabricate. The judge was unmoved by the discrepancy in the original timeline provided by Doig to his own gallery according to which he did not attend high school in 1976-77. This “understandable mistake that does not harm Mr. Doig’s credibility because it was 40 years ago”, Feinerman said. Testimony from deceased artist Peter Doige’s sister was described by the judge as “the third cherry on top of the sundae”.
Ruling against Fletcher and Bartlow, Feinerman stated that “Peter Marryat Doig absolutely did not paint the disputed work” and was justified in interfering with the attempted sale. “An artist is well within his rights to ensure that works he did not create are not sold under his name” Feinerman told the court.