To Win Lawsuit, Peter Doig Must Prove He Did Not Paint a Work

A former corrections officer, Robert Fletcher, is suing artist Peter Doig for claiming that a painting of a desert landscape is not his work, Graham Bowley of the New York Times reports.

Fletcher says that Doig created the work while serving a jail sentence for an LSD charge in a Canadian detention facility in the 1970s. Fletcher’s lawsuit alleges that Doig is confused or lying about the origins of the painting in order to prevent its owner from selling it for millions. Next month, a Chicago federal judge at the United States District Court for Northern Illinois will decide if Doig actually produced the piece.

Fletcher said that he bought the painting from a man named Pete Doige (with an e) for $100. He claims to have served as Doige’s parole officer at Thunder Bay Correctional Center in Thunder Bay, Ontario. The work is signed “Pete Doige 76,” and five years ago Fletcher’s friend recognized it and informed him that the artist who painted it is now famous. Fletcher remains “100 percent convinced” that Doig is the man he once knew and that the work is authentic.

Doig first saw only a photograph of the canvas. “I said, ‘Nice painting.’ Not by me.” Doig did grow up in Canada, but the artist said he never spent time in prison and has never been to Thunder Bay. “This case is a scam,” Doig said. “I’m being forced to jump through hoops to prove my whereabouts over forty years ago.”

Fletcher had brought the work to a Chicago-based gallery managed by Peter Bartlow, who sent a photo of the work to Sotheby’s. A specialist told them that it is “rare to see such a complete and highly resolved early painting by Doig.” She later said that she only saw an image of the work and could not authenticate it without seeing it in person.

Amy M. Adler, a professor at New York University Law School, said, “To have to disprove that you created a work seems somehow wrong and not fair.” However, Doig’s lawyers may have already tracked down the actual author of the work. They have identified a man named Peter Edward Doige, who was incarcerated in Thunder Bay. The mysterious artist died in 2012, but his sister Marilyn Doige Bovard said that the landscape looks like an Arizona horizon, which would have been familiar to him because their mother relocated to the state. “I believe that Fletcher is mistaken and that he actually met my brother, Peter, who I believe did this painting,” Bovard said. The prison’s former art teacher not only confirmed that the painting was produced by Bovard’s brother but also claims to have watched him paint it.

Doig, who plans to present documents to the court that prove he was not in the area during the time Fletcher claims the work was created, believes this incidence of mistaken identity is a result of the millions his paintings are raising at auction.

Gordon VeneKlasen, Doig’s dealer at New York’s Michael Werner Gallery, said, “This has become about much more than Peter’s painting. It’s about authorship. It’s about being forced to put your name on another artist’s work.”