The acclaimed painter Peter Doig has won a multimillion-dollar judgment against a formal correctional officer who claimed he owned a bona fide Doig work – and that Doig was just lying that he never painted it.
On Wednesday Doig was awarded $2.5m by an Illinois federal court after more than a decade of litigation.
The lawsuit dates back to the 1970s, when a former correctional officer in Canada, Robert Fletcher, said he met Doig as a student at Lakehead University in Ontario.
While attending school, Fletcher worked as a correctional officer at a prison, where he bought a painting from a prisoner for $100.
Many years later, after Doig’s career had exploded – his painting White Canoe sold at auction for $11.3m in 2007, which was an auction record for a living artist in Europe at the time – Fletcher tried to sell the painting, working with Peter Bartlow, a Chicago-based art dealer.
Doig, however, said the painting wasn’t his, and in 2013 Fletcher and Bartlow sued him, accusing the artist of denying authorship because of personal animosity toward Fletcher, reported the New York Times.
Fletcher alleged that he had served as Doig’s parole officer after Doig was incarcerated for LSD possession, reported Art News, and argued that the 1976 painting had the signature “Pete Doige 76”.
Doig’s lawyers countered that he never attended Lakehead University, and was never in jail. They argued that the painting was probably the work of a different individual, Peter Doige, who was incarcerated at the same prison where Fletcher worked. That Peter Doige died in 2012.
In 2016, a court ruled in Doig’s favor, concluding that the painting was indeed Doige’s, and declaring of the claimants: “It should have been absolutely clear to them that their claims were factually meritless and stood no chance of success.”
Doig has said that any proceeds from the suit will be donated to a non-profit that allows incarcerated people to make art.