Peter Doig isn’t exactly a common name, but the world-famous painter of that name had the bad fortune of bearing a similar name to that of Peter Edward Doige, who is apparently the true creator of a landscape painting at the center of a highly unusual lawsuit that was recently filed in the U.S. District Court of Northern Illinois.
Doige, not the painter Doig, served a short sentence in an Ontario correctional facility for LSD possession in the mid-1970s, which is where he met Robert Fletcher, who was allegedly serving as his parole officer. Fletcher said he watched Doige create a landscape painting that bears some strong resemblances to the paintings Doig is famous for and that regularly sell for $10 million or more. Fletcher said he bought the painting for $100 as a way to help Doige stay on the straight and narrow and helped him get a job.
The painting in question hung on a wall in Fletcher’s office for 40 years before a friend noticed it and told him it was by a famous painter: Peter Doig. Fletcher said he watched a talk Doig had given at a university and recognized his mannerisms as belonging to the man he helped all those years ago. Fletcher then got into contact with an art dealer in Chicago and they began making arrangements to sell the painting.
There’s just one problem: Doig insists he never created the painting.
Doig admits it’s a nice painting and that it bears some resemblance to his work. He doesn’t even deny having used recreational drugs in the ’70s, but he was still in high school at the time the painting was created and he provided evidence to prove it.
After Fletcher and the Chicago art dealer, Peter Bartlow, filed a lawsuit against Doig for ruining their plan to sell the painting for millions, Doig was forced to obtain legal counsel and provide evidence of his whereabouts from 1976-1977. Doig’s evidence included a school yearbook, letters his mother wrote about his appearance in his high school play, and written testimony from his friends concerning his whereabouts at the time.
Doig’s attorney also provided testimony from one of Doige’s sisters that her brother had been incarcerated at Fletcher’s correctional facility, that he had liked to paint before he died in 2012. She even identified the signature on the painting as belonging to her brother.
The defense further provided testimony from a former art teacher who was working at the corrections facility at the time and remembered having watched Doige create the painting in question.
By contrast, the only evidence Fletcher and Bartlow could provide to support their argument was the similarities between their painting and others created by Doig. The only expert witness they provided to identify the painting as Doig’s was Bartlow, one of the plaintiffs, who also happens to have a lot at stake in the outcome of the case.
Judge Gary Feinerman ruled in Doig’s favor, saying he could not have created the painting in question. Instead of relief, Doig said he was still angry at having to defend his case at all. He said that a living artist should be able to claim or deny a piece of work and that should be the end of the matter.
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