CHICAGO – In a seeming case of mistaken identity, a Scottish painter has been cleared of any obligations to a purchaser of a painting that the artist claims he never painted.
In an unusual lawsuit for the art world, defendant Peter Doig was accused of painting a work of art that he claims he never painted. The celebrated artist has seen his paintings sold for as much as $20 million, which may explain why plaintiff Robert Fletcher was insistent that Doig painted the painting.
Fletcher filed the suit after Doig disassociated himself from the painting, saying it wasn’t his, and the value of Fletcher’s piece declined significantly.
Fletcher claimed that he bought the painting of a desert landscape for $100 in the 1970s. Fletcher claimed that he was a prison official at Canada’s Thunder Bay Correctional Center at that time, and that Doig then was an inmate with whom he had a relationship. Fletcher claimed Doig was serving time for an LSD possession charge, and he bought the painting from him during that time.
Doig denied being in prison at the time, and also claimed that the painting was not his, saying he didn’t begin to paint on linen canvases until late 1979. Fletcher said he bought the painting from Doig in 1976.
"This is an unusual situation,” Jan Feldman, executive director of the Lawyers for Creative Arts told the Cook County Record. “This is a case where it appears that there’s a mistaken identity. It’s not common for a purchaser of a work of art to have a legal claim against an artist for denying that the work is hers. It usually doesn’t work that way. In this case, there was an allegation of a personal relationship between the purchaser and the artist. But generally, there’s no particular mechanism for a purchaser to require an artist to give sworn testimony admitting or asserting provenance, or denying it.”
Adding to the unusual nature of the case, Doig claims he has never been imprisoned in Ontario or anywhere else, so the painting couldn’t have been bought from him. At the time, Doig was in Canada, but was attending school
in Toronto, more than 500 miles from the prison. Prison records from this time period shed no light on the truth of the situation, leaving the matter to hearsay on both accounts.
Fletcher alleged that Doig was denying that he was the painter of the piece to avoid claims that he was in prison or used drugs. Doig argued that he was in high school at the time the painting was painted, and later produced materials to support this claim.
Fletcher’s legal counsel argued that there were similarities in the painting in question and past works of art Doig had produced. They used overlays in the previous works of art by the painter and the painting in the case to try to show the similarities.
Testimony from a Canadian woman may have been the argument that Doig needed to prevail, as the witness testified that the painting was produced by her brother, identified as Peter Doige, whose signature matches the signature on the painting. Doige is deceased.
U.S. District Judge Gary Feinerman ruled in favor of Doig.