A US judge said a celebrated artist was right when he insisted he did not paint a work now owned by a retired prison worker, a finding that likely ensures the piece will now be worth a fraction of the previous estimated value of $10m or more.
The ruling came at the end of an unusual bench trial in Chicago that pitted Scottish-born Peter Doig against Canadian Robert Fletcher, who paid just $100 in the 1970s for the desert landscape painting and had hoped for a windfall of millions of dollars in retirement.
Authenticity disputes typically arise long after an artist dies, not when the artist is alive and flatly denies a work is his. This case created a stir in the art world, where it is widely accepted that artists’ word on whether a work is theirs or not is final.
Judge Gary Feinerman spent nearly two hours explaining his decision and going through evidence, from school yearbooks to prison records, all of which demonstrated, he said, that Doig “absolutely did not paint the work in question”.
In a written statement after the verdict entirely in his favour, Doig, 57, said “justice prevailed, but it was way too long in coming.”
“That a living artist has to defend the authorship of his own work should never have come to pass,” he said.
The trial stemmed from Mr Fletcher’s 2013 lawsuit in Chicago, where one auctioneer was located, in which he sought millions in damages after the painting’s projected sale price tanked following Doig’s disavowal of it. The judge ruled Mr Fletcher was not entitled to any money.
The evidence, the judge said, showed this was a case of imperfect memories, coincidences and mistaken identity. He said it was a different Peter Doige, who spelled his name with an ‘e’, who created the artwork. Mr Feinerman rejected the idea that Doig, the renowned artist, and Doige were the same person.
Mr Fletcher, 62, testified that he bought the painting of a desert landscape while Doig was serving prison time in Canada’s Thunder Bay Correctional Center. However, Mr Feinerman said it was Doige — who was several years older and painted at the time — who was briefly in prison.
After Tuesday’s decision, when a reporter asked Mr Fletcher if he was still convinced the man he bought the painting from in prison and the internationally acclaimed artist were one and the same in spite of the judge’s conclusion, he responded: “I am.”
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