A federal judge in Chicago has given his verdict on artist Peter Doig’s lengthy trial. The case concerned the authenticity of a painting. Judge Gary Feinerman said that Doig was ‘correct’ when he insisted that he didn’t paint a landscape, that had been valued at more than $10 million. The official statement from Doig’s attorney: “I have rarely seen such a flagrant example of unethical conduct in the US courts nor a case that inflicted such needless burdens on a defendant. Artists should be grateful to Peter for having the ethical and financial fortitude to fight tirelessly to ensure that justice prevailed in today’s verdict.” Matthew S. Dontzin lawyer for Peter Doig and Michael Werner Gallery.
The artwork was withdrawn from auction at the insistence of the artist, who denied that it was one of his works. Judge Feinerman commented as he began summing up his reasoning, in the case that began in 2013. The formal announcement of the verdict was revealed Tuesday 23 August 2016 with the entire case for Robert Fletcher, the painting’s owner hinging on the claim that Scottish-born/Canadian artist Doig painted it. This was clearly not the case.
Mr. Feinerman stated that evidence showed that it was a case of mistaken identity and that a different Peter Doige, who spelled his last name with an ‘e,’ had created the artwork. The lawsuit was filed in Chicago because one auctioneer who had expressed interest in selling the painting was based in the windy city.
Fletcher, a retired prison guard and parole officer from Canada, filed a lawsuit in U.S. court for millions in damages after the painting’s projected sale price tanked following Doig’s disowning it.
Fletcher maintained that the painting of a desert landscape, which he paid $100 for in the 1970s, was by Doig. He claimed he bought it while Doig was serving prison time in Canada’s Thunder Bay Correctional Center. Doig clearly never served time in any jail. Feinerman, who spoke as the work at the center of the case sat on a courtroom easel, pointed to high school yearbook photos and said that it was proof enough that Doig was in a Toronto high school when Fletcher said he was painting in a prison where he worked. “Peter Doig could not have been the author of the work,” the judge said.
Most authenticity disputes arise after an artist dies. In this case, the artist is still living and flatly denies that the work is his. This is a bazaar dispute that should have never come to trial. It has created a frightening precedence in the art world, where the principle is widely accepted that artists’ word on whether a work is theirs or not is final.
Our friend loyola_condenser on Instagram reports Doig Trial. Doig wins! The judge delivered a two-hour oral verdict this afternoon. He began with an explanation as to why this trial was properly held in Illinois. He then discussed the difference between a summary judgment and an actual trial verdict: the trial record is more complete. (I was somewhat underwhelmed by this explanation). He then went on to discuss the two differing narratives and why he ruled for Doig and against Fletcher and Bartlow. The plaintiffs attested that the creator was a student at Lakehead University, was incarcerated in Thunder Bay prison in 1976, and joined the Seafarer’s Union. The painter could not have been Doig because he was never incarcerated, he never attended Lakehead University, and he was too young in 1976. The testimony and proofs for Doig’s case were persuasive. Doige painted the work. He did attend Lakehead, he was incarcerated in Thunder Bay in 1976, was witnessed painting the work, and was a member of the Seafarer’s Union. The judge discussed the other evidence which led him to his conclusions. He did believe there were gaps in both sides’ positions. The judge, as a layman, found Bartlow’s authentication method reasonable but found that the similarities it outlined between the painting and Doig’s works were purely coincidental. The painting signature is not Doig’s. Fletcher’s testimony was shifting, incomplete and inconclusive. Bartlow used motivated reasoning when he chose not to contact Doig’s friends and family. Count 2. No tortious interference, as the painting is not by Doig. Congratulations Peter Doig. Here is an official statement from Doig’s attorney: “I have rarely seen such a flagrant example of unethical conduct in the US courts nor a case that inflicted such needless burdens on a defendant. Artists should be grateful to Peter for having the ethical and financial fortitude to fight tirelessly to ensure that justice prevailed in today’s verdict.” Matthew S. Dontzin lawyer for Peter Doig and Michael Werner Gallery. I’ll repost this again in the morning.
Photo: P C Robinson © Artlyst 2016