Artist Peter Doig, accused of damaging the value of a painting simply by denying that he was its creator, prevailed in court this week. U.S. District Judge Gary Feinerman found that there no evidence that Doig created the work, but plenty that it was by someone else: one Peter Doige, with an "e".
Doig maintained from the beginning that he was the victim of a opportunistic "scam" enabled by similarity of the two artists' names and the recent death of Doige. Meanwhile, the plaintiff claimed Doig was "embarrassed" by a juvenile work that happened to expose a youthful stint in prison [Doige, not Doig, was imprisoned.]
Doige's sister, Marilyn Doige Bovard, testified that the painting was her brother's work.
As Doig's work sells for millions of dollars, much was at stake; the case was watched closely by artists and dealers concerned about an outcome that made it dangerous to discuss their own work lest they be sued by hungry speculators.
Others were angered that the judge had let the case go to trial in the first place, costing Doig heavy sums to defend himself even after producing ample evidence the painting could not possibly be by him.
The case is unusual because disputes over the authenticity of a work of art normally arise long after an artist has died. When artists are alive, it is widely accepted that their word on whether a work is theirs or not is final. Mr Fletcher claimed Mr Doig had renounced the work to avoid admitting he had spent time in prison. Mr Doig's painting Swamped sold for $25.9m last year He said he had bought the painting from Mr Doig for $100 in 1976 when the artist was serving a sentence for LSD possession at Thunder Bay Correctional Centre in Ontario, where Mr Fletcher was working. But Mr Doig insisted he had never been jailed and had actually been attending high school in Toronto at the time.
Doig, in a statement, said that 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 wrote. "That the plaintiffs in this case have shamelessly tried to deny another artist his legacy for money is despicable."