CHICAGO (CN) - A man who says he was parole officer for Scottish artist Peter Doig - whose work has fetched more than $10 million per canvas - claims in court that he owns an early Doig painting worth millions, but Doig refuses to acknowledge it as his work.
Robert Fletcher and Bartlow Gallery sued Peter Doig, Gordon VeneKlasen, Matthew Dontzin and the Dontzin Law Firm, in Federal Court.
Doig's painting "The Architect's House in the Ravine," sold for $12 million in February, a record for a living European artist. His piece "White Canoe" was auctioned in 2007 for $11.3 million, also a record at the time.
VeneKlasen is "an art dealer associated by Michael Werner gallery in New York," according to the complaint.
Fletcher worked as a correctional officer in Thunder Bay, Ontario, in the mid-1970s, and took classes at Lakehead University, where he say he met the 17-year-old Doig, then known as Pete Doige.
"Shortly after enrolling, Doig stopped appearing at Lakehead University, and shortly thereafter was remanded to the Thunder Bay Correctional Center as an inmate," Fletcher says in the complaint.
"Doig was housed in the Thunder Bay Correctional Center for about five months for possession of LSD, and was involved during that time in the fine arts educational program offered at the center; and also with the recreational arts program at the center.
"During Doig's stay at the Thunder Bay Correctional Center, Fletcher observed the work at issue in this lawsuit at several stages of completion by Doig during Fletcher's rounds at the correctional center," Fletcher says.
The painting, signed by Pete Doige, "is an untitled acrylic painting on linen, with dimensions of 34 inches by 41½ inches, and depicts a desert scene with pond," according to the complaint.
Many of Doig's works are landscapes, based on scenes from his childhood in Canada.
Fletcher claims he helped Doig apply for parole, and was assigned as his parole officer.
"Fletcher helped Doig in his search for employment, and helped him to obtain employment through the Seafarers Union in Thunder Bay," the complaint states.
"Fletcher also encouraged Doig to pursue his artistic talent, and accepted Doig's offer to sell the work to Fletcher for $100.
"Since that day in or about 1976 and to the present, Fletcher has owned the work."
He claims that "many years later, a friend staying with Fletcher commented on the work hanging in Fletcher's home, mentioned that it might be by Peter Doig, and began doing research on the artist and the painting, which was later continued by Bartlow on Fletcher's behalf."
But VeneKlasen, on behalf of Doig, denied that the painting was by Doig, and denied that Doig had ever been to Thunder Bay.
Fletcher claims that VeneKlasen wrote in an email: "'Whatever this person [Fletcher] alleges is untrue. The painting is NOT by Peter Doig. Anyone can see that. We are not interested in any further communication related to this. Good luck in finding the real artist for this. Any attempt to attribute this painting to Peter Doig in any way will be dealt with by our attorneys.'" (Brackets in complaint.)
The complaint continues: "Bartlow, on behalf of Fletcher, informed VeneKlasen in writing that Doig should simply provide information and evidence of his whereabouts from 1976 to 1978 that disproves his authorship of the work; and that this would be sufficient for Fletcher and Bartlow to end their inquiries."
After a blogger published an article about the dispute on the Huffington Post, a "commenter on the blog post, using the name peterdoig and asserting that he is Doig, and upon information and belief being Doig, then wrote a comment on December 24, 2012, denying having authored the work, denied ever having been to Thunder Bay or in a correctional facility. He stated that 'I lived in Toronto at this time and was not even an 'artist,''" Fletcher says in the complaint.
Fletcher claims that these comments are "inconsistent with his assertions, in the interview by Parinaz Magadassi published on Michael Werner gallery's website and dated April 2011, that during these years, after high school, Doig 'went out to the prairies in Canada to work on the rigs. It was out there that I started to draw a bit ...'
"Although plaintiffs have obtained numerous angry, curt and strongly worded responses to their many requests for details of Doig's life in 1976-1978, these blog comments by 'peterdoig' ... asserting that there are records of his life those years that would disprove his authorship of the work - are the only comments provided by Doig and his agents that conflict with Fletcher's knowledge regarding that period of Doig's life. No actual facts or evidence has ever been provided to disprove that Doig was in Thunder Bay in 1976 and authored the work, despite assertions that such evidence exists," Fletcher claims.
He claims that "the work's unique story and background, the early execution of the painting, and its high merits as a work of art by a teenager later to become a world-renown[ed] artist, could result in an auction sale of the work well in excess of $10 million. If the work is disproved as having been painted by Doig, it is essentially worthless.
"Doig has strong motives to deny having painted the work due to the background and place in which it was painted," Fletcher says.
Fletcher seeks a declaration attributing the work to Doig, and punitive damages for interference with prospective economic advantage.
He is represented by William Zieske.