top of page

News & Links

If you're interested in learning more about Norval Morrisseau art authenticity issues, or about us, here are some useful links.

Globe &
Mail

MASTERMIND OF MASSIVE ART FRAUD KNOCKING OFF NORVAL MORRISSEAU WORKS PLEADS GUILTY
(June 4, 2024)
 
Patrick White / Kristy Kirkup

At its heart, one of the world’s most audacious art frauds amounted to a paint-by-numbers operation, scarcely more sophisticated than a child’s colouring book.

Thunder Bay resident David Voss, aged 52, pleaded guilty on Tuesday to his central role in a multimillion-dollar counterfeiting ring that produced upwards of 1,500 works attributed to Norval Morrisseau, the international renowned Ojibwe painter.

A statement of facts read before Ontario Superior Court in Thunder Bay revealed the broad contours of the forgery ring for the first time since police made eight arrests in the case last March and labelled it the “biggest art fraud in world history” owing to the sheer number of counterfeited pieces involved.

Crown attorney John Corelli detailed how Mr. Voss sketched out drawings meant to mimic Mr. Morrisseau’s distinctive style and then annotated each section with letters indicating their ideal colour – ‘G’ for green, ‘B’ for blue, ‘LR’ for light red and so on. He would pass the sketches to hired painters to lay on the prescribed colours, before the works were signed with the Cree syllabic autograph Mr. Morrisseau was known for and backdated, usually to the 1970s.

It was a scheme arranged in an efficient assembly-line manner that netted millions of dollars between 1995 and the mid-2010s.

In court, Mr. Voss pleaded guilty to one count of forgery, for creating hundreds of fake paintings, and one count of uttering forged documents, relating to the fraudulent documentation he provided to authenticate the forgeries.

After the proceeding, a lead investigator in the case, Thunder Bay Police Detective Sergeant Jason Rybak, called Mr. Voss the “architect of this whole scheme.”

Once called Picasso of the North, Mr. Morrisseau died in 2007 having earned a reputation as one of the country’s greatest artists. His work featured X-ray depictions of people and animals outlined in thick black lines, a style that came to be called the Woodland School.

In the years before his death, Mr. Morrisseau identified dozens of counterfeit works. But buyers who tried to sue galleries for selling them suspect Morrisseaus ran into legal hurdles trying to prove a painting was a definitive fake. One plaintiff, Margaret Hatfield, a retired schoolteacher, bought Wheel of Life for $10,350 in 2005, and sued the seller in 2009. Two courts ruled against her, finding that the painting was a Morrisseau original.

Mr. Voss now admits it was a fake. Investigators submitted Wheel of Life to digital infrared photography at the Canadian Conservation Institute, which revealed Mr. Voss’s distinctive pencil outlines and letter codes beneath the overlying paint.

“I’d love to see Margaret’s face as she finds out that everything she argued, and that I argued on her behalf, has been confirmed,” said lawyer Jonathan Sommer, who argued Ms. Hatfield’s case and as well as a similar lawsuit brought by Barenaked Ladies member Kevin Hearn that was the subject of a documentary called There Are No Fakes. For years, Mr. Sommer tried in vain to get police to pursue the counterfeiting ring.

Police finally heeded those calls in 2020, when the Thunder Bay Police Service and the Ontario Provincial Police launched Project Totton.

Read the full story here: LINK

RADIO
CANADA

COMMENT LES FAUSSAIRES ON TUÉ L'ART DE NORVAL MORRISSEAU Mardi, 7 mai (2024)
 
Plus de 15 ans après la mort de l’artiste, les contrefaçons s’accumulent par milliers.
 
Par/ By: Ismaël Houdassine

Qualifié de « Picasso du Nord », Norval Morrisseau est aujourd’hui devenu le peintre le plus falsifié au Canada. Plus de 6000 peintures faussement attribuées à l’Anishinaabe seraient en circulation au pays et à l’international, contribuant à dévaluer l’héritage culturel et monétaire d’un artiste autochtone majeur dans le monde de l’art contemporain.

Depuis plusieurs années, une toile de Norval Morrisseau (1931-2007) trônait fièrement sur l’un des murs de la bibliothèque McLennan à l’Université McGill. Baptisée Shaman Surrounded by Ancestral Spirit Totem (1977), l’œuvre serait en fait un faux. En catastrophe et presque en catimini, l'institution montréalaise a retiré en février la peinture en question, affirmant ouvrir une enquête sur l'authenticité du tableau.

Cet événement malheureux pourrait être vu comme une simple anecdote s’ajoutant aux autres découvertes de contrefaçons qui secouent occasionnellement le milieu de l’art. Qui n’a pas déjà lu dans les pages d’un journal la découverte exceptionnelle d’un faux Van Gogh ou d’un faux Rembrandt? Mais dans le cas de Norval Morrisseau, la mise au jour d’œuvres falsifiées de l’artiste décédé en 2007 est presque monnaie courante.

"Ça dure depuis un long moment," souffle au bout du fil Greg Hill, ancien conservateur d’art autochtone au Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, à Ottawa. "Pas une période artistique de Morrisseau n’est épargnée. Un faux par-ci, un autre par-là. Quasiment chaque semaine, les médias annoncent avoir repéré une œuvre faussement attribuée à l’artiste."

Membre de la communauté haudenosaunee des Six Nations de la rivière Grand, en Ontario, Greg Hill a connu Norval Morrisseau vers la fin de sa vie.  "J'ai eu l'occasion de le rencontrer à plusieurs reprises. Il était alors atteint de la maladie de Parkinson, cependant, il était encore capable de communiquer. Il s’inquiétait de l’impact des faussaires sur son héritage artistique."

 

Morrisseau – aussi appelé de son nom chamanique traditionnel Copper Thunderbird (Oiseau-Tonnerre de cuivre) – était en effet au courant que des imitations de ses œuvres étaient vendues comme authentiques sur le marché. Dès 1991, le quotidien Toronto Star relatait que l'artiste se plaignait d'avoir été arnaqué.

Lisez plus ici/ read more here: LINK/LIEN

MAC

EXAMPLES OF ARTWORKS FALSELY ATTRIBUTED TO NORVAL MORRISSEAU

 

These are some of the fake Norval Morrisseau artworks which were seized by police and identified as part of the Gary Lamont fraud ring operating in Thunder Bay, Ontario. All of the paintings featured in this video have been declared as falsely attributed to Norval Morrisseau.

 

If you look at these artworks and don't know why they are fake or cannot recognize the differences between authentic and fake Norval Morrisseau artworks - we can help.

 

Music by Kevin Hearn

"Closing Theme” from the soundtrack to the film "There Are No Fakes" by Jamie Kastner

 

Used with Permission of the artist.

The Walrus

The “Multi-Multi-Multi-Million-Dollar” Art Fraud That Shook the World
(April 5, 2024) 

 

Norval Morrisseau was one of the most famous Indigenous artists anywhere. Then the fakes of his works surfaced—and kept coming.

by: Luc Rinaldi

In the spring of 2005, Norval Morrisseau called a meeting to talk about “the fakes.” Picasso, Dalí, Van Gogh—many great artists have dealt with forgeries. Morrisseau, appointed to the Order of Canada and member of the Indigenous Group of Seven, was no exception. His paintings sold for tens of thousands of dollars, but so did fakes created by former apprentices, strangers, even his own relatives. For years, Morrisseau and Gabe Vadas, his business manager and adopted son, had witnessed dubious paintings pop up in galleries and collections across Canada. In one biography of Morrisseau, A Picasso in the North Country, the Thunder Bay author James R. Stevens wrote about a Manitoulin Island art dealer who brought Morrisseau photos of fifty pieces supposedly painted by the artist. Morrisseau set several aside. “The small pile, I might have had something to do with,” he said. “The rest, I’ve never seen before.” Another time, his friend Bryant Ross told me, Morrisseau was more blunt: “I didn’t paint those fucking things.”

At first, Vadas tried to educate galleries about the fakes, but few gallerists stopped selling them. So, on the advice of their lawyer, Morrisseau and Vadas invited trusted experts—art historians and independent curators who’d studied and shown his art—to their lawyer’s office in Toronto and asked them to create a definitive catalogue of his oeuvre. They called this group of volunteers the Norval Morrisseau Heritage Society. Like the Andy Warhol Art Authentication Board, which had formed a decade earlier to validate Warhol’s work, the society’s job was to separate Morrisseau’s masterpieces from his imitators’ knock-offs.

It was a monumental task. Morrisseau had created thousands of works of art: paintings, drawings, carvings, pieces of clothing, furniture. Galleries and collectors sought these works because they were unlike anything they’d seen before. They were characterized by bold black lines and vibrant colours, depicting the birds, bears, and beasts of Ojibwe legends passed down by Morrisseau’s grandfather—imagery that was, at the time, uncommon in contemporary art. Morrisseau made these legends his own, melding traditional motifs with the Catholic iconography imprinted on him in residential school as well as the psychedelic symbols of Eckankar, a form of New Age spirituality he adopted later in life. His works were at once stoic and sexual, depicting Jesus on one canvas and a phallus on the next. He worked with different materials (paint, crayon, and, by some reports, orange juice and blood) on a variety of surfaces (birch bark, fridge doors, pizza boxes). He inspired others—artists who paint in his style are known as the Woodland School—but none rivalled his fame. Though his works could fetch huge sums, he often gifted them to friends or traded them. For reasons both good (his talent) and bad (his public struggles with substance use), he was frequently in the press.

A year later, in the summer of 2006, Vadas learned that Heffel, a reputable Toronto auction house, was selling a number of Morrisseau paintings. He identified a handful of them as fakes, and Heffel removed them from the auction. When Heffel informed Joseph Otavnik, the owner of two of those paintings—as well as of dozens more on the walls of his home—that it wouldn’t be selling his pieces, Otavnik sued Vadas, claiming that he’d devalued the paintings and prevented him from selling them for as much as $12,000 each. By then, Morrisseau had been living with Parkinson’s disease. In the lawsuit, Otavnik referred to Morrisseau’s diagnosis and made the claim that his history of alcohol use might have contributed to a memory disorder; the artist, Otavnik asserted, therefore couldn’t be trusted to verify his own paintings. (The people who were closest to Morrisseau at the time say he remained mentally sharp.) Otavnik implored the courts to instead trust the judgment of Joseph McLeod, a gallerist who sold Otavnik the paintings and swore they were real. Moreover, earlier in his career, Morrisseau had allegedly allowed his assistants to pass off their work as his own so that they could make more money. In his claim, Otavnik wrote, “Norval doesn’t even care if people are copying his style of painting or even if they are selling fakes.”

Morrisseau clearly cared. He and Vadas flew to Toronto, where the suit had been filed, to rally support from like-minded gallerists and settle the debate once and for all. But by then, the artist was in his mid-seventies and frail and was using a wheelchair; he’d suffered a stroke ten years earlier and had also had double knee surgery. While in Toronto, he was taken to Toronto General Hospital, where, on December 4, 2007, he died. He never got a chance to tell a judge he hadn’t painted those pieces. Years later, the fight over the fakes still rages.

READ THE FULL STORYLINK

MAC

STATEMENT BY MORRISSEAU ART CONSULTING CEO JONATHAN SOMMER
(March 23, 2024) 

 

RE: JUNIOR HOCKEY TEAM SAYS IT MADE ERROR IN JUDGMENT WITH JERSEY SIMILAR TO WORK ATTRIBUTED TO MORRISSEAU BELIEVED TO BE FAKE (by Kristy Kirkup, Globe and Mail)

When contacted by the Globe and Mail for this morning's article regarding the Guelph Storm jerseys, Morrisseau Art Consulting, Inc. issued the following statement on record: 

 

"The paintings from which the jersey logos appear to have been copied are known as Sacred Thunderbird and Sacred Medicine Bear.   Sacred Thunderbird, in particular, has an interesting history.  We are unaware of any provenance for that piece (or Sacred Medicine Bear) prior to the 2000’s,  but it was featured as a giclée print offered in various sizes by White Distribution Ltd., a company owned by James White, who is one of the people recently charged with fraud. When it was so offered, it was accompanied by a certificate of authenticity, signed by Christian Morrisseau, who was one of Norval’s sons.  That certificate was issued by the Morrisseau Family Foundation (the “MFF”), an organization set up with the help of Joseph McLeod, the art dealer who was found liable for fraud in relation to Morrisseau’s work. 

 

The MFF’s members also include several of Norval’s other children.  Those children, who are also now members of what is known as the Morrisseau Estate, have been long-time supporters of, and collaborators with, both White and McLeod.  In other words, Sacred Thunderbird’s history is strongly connected to the long-time business relationship between Norval’s children, who are now part of “the estate," and two art dealers, one of whom has been found by the court to be a fraud, and the other of whom is currently facing several criminal charges in relation to the Morrisseau fraud.

 

Norval Morrisseau’s children’s involvement in the promotion and authentication of fake Morrisseau paintings is not new. 

 

For example, the painting Shaman with Bird Artist, which was admitted to be a fake by fraudster Gary Lamont in his guilty plea, was authenticated by David Morrisseau and offered for sale in the 2008 Art Cube Gallery (Toronto) “Morrisseau Family” exhibition put on by Norval’s sons David Morrisseau, Eugene Morrisseau and Christian Morrisseau, all of whom are members of the MFF and of the current “Morrisseau Estate."  Remarkably, another painting that was offered for sale at that same Art Cube Gallery exhibition was a painting titled Great Thunderbird – which is actually the same painting that is now known in print form as Sacred Thunderbird.

 

Interestingly, Sacred Medicine Bear, which was dated 1974, was the subject of the art fraud charges against Gary Lamont, the Thunder Bay drug dealer and convicted rapist who ran part of the Morrisseau fakes production ring. When he pled guilty recently, he specifically identified Sacred Medicine Bear as a painting that his fraud ring produced, a fact with which the Crown agreed.

 

It is our view that both Sacred Thunderbird and Sacred Medicine Bear have various characteristics that are consistent with the works implicated by the police in Project Totton, and which are inconsistent with Morrisseau’s known authentic works.  Accordingly, we strongly urge that Sacred Thunderbird be examined for its authenticity to be determined."

 

Jonathan Sommer

Chief Executive Officer

Morrisseau Art Consulting Inc.

READ THE STORY: LINK 

DOWNLOAD THE STATEMENT WITH EXHIBITS

Globe &
Mail

Junior hockey team says it made error in judgement with jersey similar to work attributed to Morrisseau believed to be fake
(March 23, 2024) 

 

An Ontario junior hockey team says it made “an error in judgment” in its use of artwork for a charity jersey that caught the attention of the estate of acclaimed Anishinaabe artist Norval Morrisseau.

In February, the Guelph Storm unveiled what it called the “Anishnabeg Outreach Jersey” and said the special logo was conceptualized and designed by Stephen Jackson, the CEO of Anishnabeg Outreach. The organization, based in Kitchener, Ont., bills itself as a hub for Indigenous culture and prosperity.

“Renowned for his talent in crafting woodland-style artwork, the graphic featured on this jersey is a reproduction of one of his captivating acrylic painting pieces,” the team’s website said, adding that the image is of an eagle that brings the lesson of love, one of the Seven Grandfather Teachings.

Morrisseau originated a pictographic style that came to be known as the Woodland School.

The jerseys were to be auctioned off in late February, with the proceeds going to Anishnabeg Outreach.

The team worked on a similar charity jersey with Jackson in 2023 that featured an image of a bear.

Matt Newby, the team’s vice-president of business operations, said that in each case the jerseys were worn for a single home game.

But the eagle and bear logos came under fire online and caught the eye of Cory Dingle, the head of Morrisseau’s estate. He contacted the team, and they issued a joint statement saying they were both “aware of the concerns regarding the jerseys.”

Jonathan Sommer, a lawyer who specializes in art fraud, said the image on the 2024 Guelph Storm jersey has elements that could make it a “near reproduction” of a work known as Sacred Thunderbird. He also said the 2023 jersey logo is similar to another piece called Sacred Medicine Bear.

Sommer co-runs a company with researcher John Zemanovich called Morrisseau Art Consulting Inc., which investigates and examines works attributed to Morrisseau. He said he had no doubt the team intended to use the images as a tribute but inadvertently ended up perpetuating a “grave injustice” against the late artist.

LINK

The Talking
Raven

The Talking Raven Podcast: What can we learn from artists like Norval Morrisseau?
(March 12, 2024) 

 

Guest: Dr. Carmen Robertson, Canada Research Chair in North American Indigenous Visual and Material Culture and Professor at Carleton University (Ottawa, ON)

LINK

Artnet
News

McGill University Removes a Norval Morrisseau Painting Over Fraud Concerns
The university has promised to provide the results of the investigation into the legitimacy of the painting.
(February 16, 2024) 

 

A painting by the artist Norval Morrisseau, a member of the Bingwi Neyaashi Anishinaabek First Nation, has been removed from display at McGill University pending a review of its authenticity.

The painting Shaman Surrounded by Ancestral Spirit Totem (1977) was deemed to have characteristics similar to other works that were part of a police investigation into art fraud, the Globe and Mail reported. Artnet News has reached out for more information but did not hear back by press time.

Morrisseau created the “heavily stylized” oil painting toward the end of his career, according to a listing of the work on McGill’s website. It depicts a shaman entering the spirit plane and the surrounding spirit animals that protect him on his journey using semi-abstract forms and vibrant colors.

In March 2023, Ontario Provincial Police arrested eight people tied to an art forgery ring that allegedly produced and sold paintings attributed to Morrisseau, who died in 2007. The first of the suspects, 61-year-old Gary Lamont, was sentenced to five years in jail in December. Others charged in the forgery ring include Benjamin Paul Morrisseau, a nephew of the late artist.

The university told The Globe and Mail in a statement that the work was removed for security reasons and has started an investigation into the authenticity of the painting, even though the school has not yet been approached by police.

The painting was donated to the museum in 2013 and appraised and authenticated at the time, university spokesperson Michel Proulx added. Still, researcher John Zemanovich and Jonathan Sommer, a lawyer who specializes in art fraud, said it has a few characteristics at odds with Morrisseau’s work. For example, Sommer said the painting’s colors don’t have the balance of Morrisseau’s other works.

Sommer said the university should turn the painting over to police if its review determines the work to be a fake. Proulx promised to provide the public with the results of the investigation after its completion.

LINK

Globe &
Mail

McGill removes painting attributed to Morrisseau, launches investigation into possible art fraud
(February 14, 2024) 

 

McGill University has taken down a painting attributed to prominent Indigenous artist Norval Morrisseau and has decided to launch an investigation because of concerns it features characteristics similar to works that were part of a massive police probe into art fraud.

The university’s decision follows reporting by The Globe and Mail that detailed concerns about a 1977 painting that was hanging in the McLennan Library at McGill known as Shaman Surrounded by Ancestral Spirit Totem.

The university said Wednesday the painting has been removed from view temporarily “for security purposes and has begun its own investigation into its authenticity using resources both internally and externally.”

“We’ll communicate the result of the investigation with you upon its completion,” McGill institutional communications director Michel Proulx said in a statement.

Jonathan Sommer, a lawyer who specializes in art fraud and who has looked at Mr. Morrisseau’s work extensively, said he was pleased to see McGill take the steps announced on Wednesday.

Earlier this month, Mr. Proulx said that The Globe’s questions about the painting’s authenticity “are the first ones we have received.” He said no one else, either from the art world or law enforcement or journalism, has inquired or raised concerns about the painting’s authenticity.

LINK

Globe &
Mail

McGill University painting attributed to First Nations artist raises concern of Morrisseau estate, experts
(February 1, 2024) 

 

Experts who have studied the work of acclaimed First Nations artist Norval Morrisseau, along with his estate, say a painting attributed to him on display at a McGill University library raises several red flags and should be investigated.

The concerns are part of a broader push from individuals who have studied Mr. Morrisseau’s work to persuade public institutions to examine their collections and authenticate paintings on display. The Morrisseau Estate believes inauthentic paintings now outnumber real ones on the market.

The 1977 McGill painting is hanging in the McLennan Library and is known as Shaman Surrounded by Ancestral Spirit Totem.

Jonathan Sommer, a lawyer who specializes in art fraud and who has extensively looked at Mr. Morrisseau’s work, said the painting has, in his opinion, a number of features that “appear to be at odds with Morrisseau’s typical practices.”

Mr. Sommer said the colour in the painting lacks the balance of pieces by Mr. Morrisseau from that time period and the features are not consistent.

While speaking to McGill law students on Thursday, Mr. Sommer said the painting should be examined by an expert.

Mr. Sommer, who has a company known as Morrisseau Art Consulting Inc., along with researcher John Zemanovich, that examines artwork attributed to Mr. Morrisseau, said he would like McGill to remove the painting from display and its provenance should be determined.

“If it is determined to be a fake, it should be turned over to the police for use as evidence in their ongoing efforts to stop the fraud,” Mr. Sommer said.

LINK

Globe &
Mail

First Nations gallery that lent painting attributed to Norval Morrisseau to Ontario legislature now of opinion painting is ‘fake’
(January 26, 2024) 

 

A First Nations-owned gallery that lent a painting to Queen’s Park that was attributed to acclaimed artist Norval Morrisseau now says it believes the piece is a fake.

The Whetung Ojibwa Centre, located on Curve Lake First Nation, about 30 kilometres north of Peterborough, Ont., said in a statement it lent a painting known as Salmon Life Giving Spawn to the Ontario legislative assembly several years ago and until recently, it believed the painting to be authentic.

In its statement shared by its lawyer, Jonathan Sommer, the centre said although more facts related to this painting may emerge, it is “now of the opinion that Salmon Life Giving Spawn is a fake.”

The centre said it is pleased the painting has been removed from display at the legislature and that the Ontario Provincial Police has seized the artwork for further investigation. It also said it will support the efforts of law enforcement.

The Morrisseau Estate said in a statement it wished to extend gratitude to the centre and the Whetung family, adding the gallery has sold and promoted Indigenous products for decades.

The estate’s executive director Cory Dingle said many, including individuals who knew Mr. Morrisseau personally, have been deceived by this “extensive art fraud” now before the courts.

Mr. Sommer said Friday that the painting was provided to the Whetung Ojibwa Centre by Jim White.

LINK

Radio
Canada

La police enquête sur l’authenticité d’un Norval Morrisseau exposé à Queen’s Park
(25 Janvier, 2024) 

 

La Police provinciale de l’Ontario (PPO) a saisi un tableau attribué au célèbre peintre anishinaabe Norval Morrisseau qui était jusqu'à tout récemment exposé à l’Assemblée législative de l’Ontario, à Toronto.

Salmon Life Giving Spawn a été saisi lors d’une enquête conjointe avec le Service de police de Thunder Bay baptisée Project Totton. La peinture présentait des caractéristiques similaires à celles d'autres tableaux que nous avons saisis et que nous croyons être des Norval Morrisseau contrefaits, a expliqué le détective Kevin Veilleux, de la Police provinciale de l'Ontario PPO.

Ce tableau était exposé dans une salle de comité à Queen’s Park à l'occasion d’une exposition permanente qui met en valeur, en alternance, des œuvres d’artistes autochtones.

Une porte-parole de l'Assemblée législative de l'Ontario a expliqué dans une déclaration écrite jeudi que le tableau avait été retiré de l'exposition jusqu'à ce que plus d'informations puissent être obtenues sur sa provenance.

C’est le Globe and Mail qui a d’abord attiré l’attention des enquêteurs sur ce tableau.

En mars, les policiers ont porté des accusations contre huit personnes et saisi plus de 1000 tableaux. Ils estiment qu'il s'agit de la plus vaste enquête pour fraude de l’histoire canadienne dans le milieu des arts.

Gary Lamont, le cerveau de l’opération, a plaidé coupable de plusieurs chefs d'accusation et a été condamné à cinq ans de prison en décembre.

Norval Morrisseau, mort en 2007 à l'âge de 75 ans, était un artiste prolifique et reconnu du Nord-Ouest de l’Ontario. Il a été le fondateur d’un courant baptisé la Woodlands School of Art.

Ses œuvres sont exposées dans de nombreux musées et établissements au pays, dont Rideau Hall, à Ottawa.

Avec les informations de Jérémie Bergeron et de CBC

LINK

CTV
News

Suspected fake Norval Morrisseau painting seized from Ontario legislature
(January 24, 2024) 

 

A piece of artwork hanging in the Ontario legislature was seized by police Thursday amid allegations that it was not painted by prominent Indigenous artist Norval Morrisseau as was originally claimed.

In a statement to CTV News Toronto, Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) said the piece, called “Salmon Life Giving Spawn,” was removed today as part of a broader art fraud investigation.

The piece was part of an exhibit at Queen’s Park called Gathering Place, whose goal is to “bring forward and honour the experiences of the many Indigenous peoples living in Ontario, as well as to build a bridge of understanding between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities.”

LINK

CBC

Police seizing suspected fake painting by famed Anishinaabe artist from Ontario legislature
(January 24, 2024) 

 

Ontario Provincial Police say they are investigating a painting attributed to renowned Anishinaabe artist Norval Morrisseau that hung at the legislature, as part of an ongoing probe into art fraud.

An OPP spokesperson said Thursday that the force is "in the process of seizing" the painting, titled Salmon Life Giving Spawn, in connection with Project Totton, a joint investigation with the Thunder Bay Police Service.

In March 2023, the police services charged eight people and announced they had seized more than 1,000 paintings falsely attributed to Morrisseau in what they called the largest art fraud investigation in Canadian history. 

Gary Lamont, the ringleader of the fraud ring, pleaded guilty on multiple charges and was sentenced to five years in prison in December

Salmon Life Giving Spawn hung in a committee room at Queen's Park as part of a rotating exhibit of Indigenous art, according to the Globe and Mail, which first reported that the work had drawn the attention of Project Totton investigators.

LINK

Toronto
Star

OPP seizing suspected fake Norval Morrisseau painting at Queen's Park as part of wider art fraud probe
(January 24, 2024) 

 

Ontario Provincial Police are seizing a painting from the legislature, purportedly by the famed First Nations artist Norval Morrisseau, as part of a probe into fraudulent art.

Known as "Salmon Life Giving Spawn" and featuring four stylized fish, the painting was taken down from a legislative committee room this week where it hung as part of a rotating exhibit of Indigenous art called Gathering Place.

"The OPP is investigating and seizing the artwork as part of Project Totten," provincial police spokesperson Gosia Puzio said Wednesday.

LINK

Globe & Mail

Legislative Assembly of Ontario removes artwork attributed to Norval Morrisseau over concerns raised about authenticity
(January 23, 2024) 

 

Nina Zemko, a spokesperson with the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, said Tuesday that Salmon Life Giving Spawn has been on loan from the Whetung Ojibwa Centre and that the painting has “been removed until further information can be obtained about its provenance.”

The Whetung Ojibwa Centre is located on the Curve Lake First Nation. The Globe could not reach a representative at the centre for comment. An automatic reply said the centre was closed because of its annual winter holiday.

Jonathan Sommer is a lawyer who specializes in art fraud and runs a company, Morrisseau Art Consulting Inc., with Morrisseau researcher John Zemanovich. Their company investigates and examines work attributed to Mr. Morrisseau. Mr. Sommer said Salmon Life Giving Spawn has a number of features that are highly unusual when compared to authentic works by Mr. Morrisseau.

“This work ought to be examined, including an investigation into its provenance and its authenticity determined,” Mr. Sommer said.

He also said the artwork had characteristics consistent with artwork that has been previously investigated by the OPP.

Cory Dingle, the executive director of the estate, also told The Globe that it has “serious concerns about the legitimacy of the painting” and said the piece should be handed over to the OPP as part of its investigation on forgeries of Mr. Morrisseau’s work.

Gosia Puzio, a spokesperson for the OPP, said Tuesday that the force is “aware of the artwork and is following up on it.”

Mr. Sommer said if the painting is found through an examination to be a fake, it should be thoroughly documented and marked permanently as a fraudulent piece or destroyed.

LINK

Globe & Mail

Authenticity of Norval Morrisseau painting being investigated by National Capital Commission, OPP
(January 19, 2024) 

 

Mr. Sommer runs a company called Morrisseau Art Consulting Inc. with John Zemanovich, who has extensively researched Mr. Morrisseau’s artworks. It investigates and examines work attributed to Mr. Morrisseau.

Mr. Sommer said the piece of art, which was also previously hung in the Senate of Canada, raises some “red flags” for him, such as its visual composition, choice of colours and the way figures are drawn, adding this is inconsistent with many of Mr. Morrisseau’s standard practices.

“They also, at the same time, appear to be consistent with many of the things we’re seeing in the artworks that, for example, Gary Lamont, the fraudster, has admitted to producing in his fraud ring,” Mr. Sommer said.

Mr. Sommer said he highly recommends the piece of art be examined by a credible expert.

LINK

CBC
News

5-year sentence for ringleader in Norval Morrisseau art fraud ring
(December 14, 2023)  

 

Detective Jason Rybak, lead investigator in the case against Gary Lamont, reacts after seeing the sentence handed down in court and says he hopes it brings the victims some closure and mentions Kevin Hearn and MAC CEO Jonathan Sommer.

LINK

Newmarket
Today

Court case delving into alleged Morrisseau art fraud resumes in March
(December 14, 2023)  

 

Judicial pre-trial proceedings continued Thursday in Superior Court in Barrie for the direct indictment of three southern Ontario men charged in connection with a fraudulent art ring.

They are accused of making and selling fake paintings by renowned Ontario Indigenous artist Norval Morrisseau.

Charged are James White, 81, of Essa Township; David Bremner, 75, of Markham; and Jeffrey Cowan, 47, of Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Pre-trial is scheduled to continue on March 27, 2024 at 2:15 p.m.

LINK

Thunder
Bay
Newswatch

Gary Lamont sentenced to 5 years for Norval Morrisseau forgeries
(December 14, 2023)  

 

THUNDER BAY - A section of a Thunder Bay Courtroom was filled with seized artwork fraudulently attributed to Indigenous artist Norval Morrisseau by Gary Lamont, seated in the prisoner’s box, who signed the renowned artist’s name to profit from his unique style and Ojibway culture.

“In this case, the damage is profound,” said Justice Bonnie Warkentin. “This is more than just an art fraud. It is the appropriation of a cultural and spiritual identity of one of Canada’s most profound artists.”

Lamont, 61, appeared before Warkentin on Thursday for sentencing. Last week, Lamont pleaded guilty to one count of forgery and one count of defrauding the public above $5,000.

The charges relate to an extensive multi-year investigation by the Thunder Bay Police Service and the Ontario Provincial Police into what has been called one of the largest art fraud rings in the world involving thousands of fake Norval Morrisseau works and millions of dollars.

Morrisseau, also known as Copper Thunderbird, was originally from Bingwi Neyaashi Anishinaabek First Nation and gained international recognition for founding the Woodlands School of art. Throughout his life, Morrisseau’s work was exhibited in galleries in Canada, the United States, and Europe and in 1978 he received the Order of Canada.

LINK

CBC
News

Ringleader in Norval Morrisseau art fraud ring sentenced to 5 years on fraud charges
(December 14, 2023)  

 

One of eight people charged in what Ontario Provincial Police say is the largest art fraud investigation in Canadian history has been sentenced to five years incarceration, with credit for one year of time already served. 

Gary Lamont pleaded guilty on Dec. 4 to a charge of making false documents, mainly artwork, that was attributed to the Anishinaabe artist Norval Morrisseau and a count of defrauding the public in an amount exceeding $5,000.

Morrisseau, who died in 2007 at age 75, was a renowned artist from the Ojibway Bingwi Neyaashi Anishinaabek First Nation in northwestern Ontario. He's known as the founder of the Woodlands School of art and his work has been exhibited in galleries across Canada, including at Rideau Hall in Ottawa.

Lamont oversaw the production and distribution of hundreds of forged artworks falsely attributed to Morrisseau starting in 2002, according to the agreed statement of facts submitted to the courts. 

According to the statement of facts, 190 "Lamont Ring Forgeries" have been identified to date, with 117 of them seized by investigators.

In handing down the sentence, the judge called the fraud an "appropriation of a cultural and spiritual identity of one of Canada's most loved and valued artists." 

LINK

Thunder
Bay
Newswatch

Gary Lamont pleads guilty to more sexual assault charges
(December 8, 2023)  

 

Gary Lamont, who was previously convicted of sexual assault and recently pleaded guilty to charges in a Norval Morrisseau art fraud ring, has also pleaded guilty to three more counts of sexual assault for incidents in 2021 and 2022 .

LINK

Globe & Mail

Alleged leader in Norval Morrisseau art fraud investigation pleads guilty
(December 5, 2023)  

 

One of the alleged leaders of a Thunder Bay-based forgery ring that produced numerous counterfeit Norval Morrisseau paintings has pleaded guilty to forging the late artist’s work.

 

In March, Gary Lamont was charged with five counts related to forging paintings as part of a joint operation, between the OPP and the Thunder Bay Police Service, called Project Totton.

 

One investigator called the case, in which eight people were alleged to have created thousands of fake paintings worth tens of millions of dollars, one of the biggest cases of art fraud anywhere in the world.

 

During a Monday hearing before Ontario Superior Court Justice Bonnie Warkentin, Mr. Lamont pleaded guilty of defrauding the public of an amount exceeding $5,000 and forgery. The three remaining counts against him will be formally withdrawn next week.

LINK

Thunder
Bay
Newswatch

Lamont pleads guilty
(December 4, 2023)  

 

Thunder Bay News broadcast report of Gary Lamont's Guilty Plea in the Norval Morrisseau Art Fraud case: LINK

CBC
Listen

Jonathan Sommer Norval Morrisseau Fraud Interview on CBC Up North with Jonathan Pinto​
(December 5, 2023)  

 

Jonathan Sommer of Morrisseau Art Consulting, Inc. was interviewed by CBC Reporter Michelle Allan for a segment on the CBC's Up North with Jonathan Pinto about recent developments in the Norval Morrisseau Fraud case and the recent Guilty plea by Gary Bruce Lamont of Thunder Bay, Ontario.

Thunder
Bay
Newswatch

Thunder Bay man enters guilty plea in art fraud case
(December 4, 2023)  

On the 16th anniversary of Norval Morrisseau's death (December 4, 2007), Gary Bruce Lamont of Thunder Bay, Ontario has lead guilty to charges the Norval Morrisseau Art Fraud. Gary Lamont pleaded guilty to a charge of making false documents, mainly artwork, that was attributed to Morrisseau and a count of defrauding the public in an amount exceeding $5,000. The other seven charges he faces are expected to be withdrawn at his next court appearance on Dec. 14, which will discuss potential sentencing. 

CBC
News

Thunder Bay man pleads guilty to 2 charges in Norval Morrisseau art fraud investigation
(December 4, 2023)  

 

One of eight people charged in the Norval Morrisseau art forgery case pleaded guilty to two charges Monday in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in Thunder Bay, Ont.

Gary Lamont pleaded guilty to a charge of making false documents, mainly artwork, that was attributed to Morrisseau and a count of defrauding the public in an amount exceeding $5,000. The other seven charges he faces are expected to be withdrawn at his next court appearance on Dec. 14, which will discuss potential sentencing. 

Third parties in the case will be contacted and victims, Anishinaabe elders, community members and Morrisseau's family will be invited to make impact statements to the court. 

Lamont's lawyer Gil Labine attempted to seek a publication ban, but that request was denied by Justice Bonnie R. Warkentin.

Police laid more than 40 charges against eight people this past March after a years-long investigation into the forgery of the famous Anishinaabe artist's work.

LINK

Thunder
Bay
NewsWatch

Gary Lamont pleads guilty to two charges as part of Norval Morrisseau art fraud ring
(December 4, 2023)  

 

THUNDER BAY — One of the eight accused in the Norval Morrisseau art fraud ring, which has been called one of the largest art frauds in history, has pleaded guilty to two charges.

Gary Lamont, 61, appeared before Justice Bonnie Warkentin in a Thunder Bay courtroom on Monday where he pleaded guilty to one count of forgery and one count of defrauding the public above $5,000.

The facts and sentencing submissions will be heard at a second hearing scheduled for Dec. 14, where the remaining charges against Lamont are expected to be withdrawn.

Lamont was first charged in March 2023 along with seven co-accused including: Benjamin Morrisseau, 53, David John Voss, 51, Diane Marie Champagne, 63, Linda Tkachyk, 59, all from Thunder Bay, as well as Jeffrey Cowan, 47, of Niagara-on-the-Lake, James White, 81, of Essa Township, and David Bremner, 75, of Locust Hill.

The charges follow a joint three-year investigation by the Thunder Bay Police Service and the Ontario Provincial Police into fraudulent art works claimed to have been done by Norval Morrisseau.

LINK

APTN

National

News

APTN National News June 19 2023 Norval Morrisseau Fakes story
(June 19, 2023)  

 

Mark Solomon, Senior Advisor to the President on Reconciliation and Inclusion at Seneca College, asked Morrisseau Art Consulting, Inc. to announce the authenticity of their purported Norval Morrisseau artwork this past week. APTN was there to cover the story and it was broadcast on the APTN National News on June 19, 2023. Watch the broadcast.

APTN

How to spot a fake Norval Morrisseau
(June 16, 2023) 

 

An Ontario art expert says the recent rise in forgeries of renowned Indigenous artist Norval Morrisseau is nothing short of cultural appropriation. “It’s a form of colonization when people come along, and I can say it, a lot of the people who are allegedly involved in this are white people who’ve come along and are taking liberties with and stealing the message, the soul of this great Indigenous artist,” Jonathan Sommer said.  Sommer is a Toronto-based lawyer and he is also the CEO of Morrisseau Art Consulting, Inc.

Globe & Mail

Inside the strange legal sideshow that helped fuel the Norval Morrisseau art forgery scandal
(June 8, 2023)  

 

The elderly couple embraced in the courtroom until security staff had to separate them.

“Why did they keep us apart so long?” sobbed 82-year-old John Goldi, as he stooped to hug his wife, Joan, in a wheelchair. “I love you,” said Joan, aged 80.

 

They had spent the previous seven nights in Ontario provincial jail awaiting a contempt of court hearing, one of the strange legal side-shows originating from what police are calling the biggest case of art fraud in Canadian history.

In March, investigators with the Thunder Bay Police and Ontario Provincial Police arrested eight people for allegedly counterfeiting between 4,500 and 6,000 pieces of art credited to Norval Morrisseau, an Indigenous artist who died in 2007. With an average Morrisseau going for $15,000, the value of alleged forgeries could approach $100-million, police said.

The Goldis were not among those implicated in the fraud, but their ample legal problems are directly linked to the authenticity war over Morrisseau’s work. Online and in court, the Goldis have for years declared themselves defenders of Morrisseau’s legacy, attacking anyone who dared to speak out about fake paintings. In their view, the forgery claims, which date back to the mid-nineties, were part of a grander conspiracy, cooked up by a cabal of art elitists who wanted to drive up Morrisseau prices by declaring vast swaths of the artist’s oeuvre fake. As former award-winning documentarians who worked with the likes of author and broadcaster Linden MacIntyre, they held themselves out as fearless truth-tellers – most notably on their blog, TheNorvalMorrisseauHoaxExposedBlog.com. 

“This blog searches out and scorches those people in prominent positions whose racist participation in promoting an art fraud have undermined the public trust in the integrity of the art and artists of Canada’s Indigenous people,” John wrote on the site’s “Credo” page.

This April, five years after those words appeared online, the Goldis sat in court and received their own scorching from Justice David Corbett, who called their efforts to evade the court “a disgrace” and went on to remind them of all they’d lost during their self-destructive battle: the blog had been shut down; they owed roughly half a million dollars for defamation; their house was about to be auctioned off by the sheriff’s office.

LINK

CBC
Nova
Scotia

As the value of Maud Lewis paintings soars, so does risk of fraud
(May 28, 2023)   

 

Some art experts are cautioning that the soaring value of Maud Lewis paintings will make the Nova Scotia folk artist's work more attractive for fraudsters to replicate. Making Maud frauds isn't new, with allegations dating back decades. One of the people accused of making forgeries of her work was her husband, Everett Lewis, after Maud's death in 1970.

LINK

TVO 
The
Agenda
with

Steve
Paikin

Episode: Restoring Norval Morrisseau's Legacy
(April 19, 2023)

 

In the wake of arrests in the Norval Morrisseau art fraud, what becomes of the legacy of the artist who is at the centre of this case?  Musician Kevin Hearn took us through his journey from Morrisseau purchase to fake art revelations in the TVO documentary, "There Are No Fakes."  He is now on a mission to restore authenticity and integrity to Morrisseau's legacy.  So too is his lawyer Jonathan Sommer of Morrisseau Art Consulting, Inc. 

Ontario Provincial Police

OPP and Thunder Bay Police Service lay charges in decades-long art fraud investigation
(March 3, 2023)  

 

The Ontario Provincial Police and the Thunder Bay Police Service have arrested eight people for their involvement in the apparent fraudulent manufacturing and distribution of artwork purported to be that of Indigenous artist Norval Morrisseau. More than 1,000 alleged fraudulent paintings, prints and other artworks have been seized. Some of these paintings sold for tens of thousands of dollars to unsuspecting members of the public who had no reason to believe they weren't genuine. A media conference was held on March 3, 2023 at OPP General Headquarters in Orillia to announce the new developments.

CBC
News 
The National

Police call Anishinaabe art forgery world’s biggest art fraud
(March 3, 2023)

 

Thousands of fake versions of paintings by acclaimed Anishinaabe artist Norval Morrisseau were sold in what Ontario police are calling the world's biggest art fraud. The years-long investigation led to 40 charges against eight people including the artist’s own nephew.

CP24
News

MORRISSEAU ART CONSULTING PRINCIPAL JONATHAN SOMMER INTERVIEW
(March 3, 2023)  

 

Lawyer and Morrisseau Art Consulting, Inc. CEO Jonathan Sommer interviewed on the evening of March 3, 2023 in regards to the Ontario Provincial Police news conference announcing arrests from the investigation of fraudulent Norval Morrisseau artworks and the seizure of over 1000 alleged fraudulent paintings.

CBC
Radio

DS JASON RYBAK (THUNDER BAY POLICE)  - March 6 2023 - Norval Morrisseau fraud investigation
(March 6, 2023)

 

CBC's SUPERIOR MORNING host Mary-Jean Cormier interviews Norval Morrisseau fraud lead investigator Detective Sergeant Jason Rybak of the Thunder Bay Police Services.

DS Rybak discusses their investigation.

LINK

CBC
News

Over 1,000 paintings seized, 8 people arrested in Norval Morrisseau art fraud
(March 3, 2023)  

 

More than 1,000 paintings were seized and eight people face a total of 40 charges resulting from a years-long police investigation into the forgery of artwork by Anishinaabe artist Norval Morrisseau.

LINK

Morrisseau
Estate

(April 2, 2023)  

 

The Official Estate of Norval Morrisseau issues statement regarding fake and unauthorized prints.

LINK

Globe & Mail

Victims of alleged Morrisseau art fraud include Westerkirk Capital billionaire Sherry Brydson
(March 18, 2023)  

 

A company run by one of the wealthiest women in Canada and the chief executive of a large property management firm are among the alleged victims of what police have called the biggest case of art fraud in history.

Police in Ontario charged eight people earlier this month with churning out thousands of forged Norval Morrisseau paintings worth tens of millions of dollars – works that ended up hanging in galleries and the homes of unsuspecting collectors. The individuals were part of three separate fraud rings, according to detectives, the earliest of which started operating in 1996.

Court records filed in Thunder Bay show that Westerkirk Capital Inc. is among those allegedly defrauded. The sole director of Westerkirk is Sherry Brydson, whose net worth has been estimated at more than US$14-billion by Bloomberg. Ms. Brydson is the granddaughter of Roy Thomson and a shareholder in Woodbridge Co. Ltd., the controlling shareholder of Thomson Reuters Corp. Woodbridge is also the owner of The Globe and Mail.

“Norval Morrisseau is one of Canada’s most significant and celebrated artists, and we are grateful that both he and his work have been globally recognized as such,” said Neil Sweeney, vice-president of corporate affairs at Westerkirk. He declined to comment further, citing the criminal case.

LINK

The Art Newspaper

Canadian police uncover 'biggest art fraud in world history'
(March 8, 2023)

 

Eight suspects are arrested and more than 1,000 works seized following investigation into forgeries of paintings by the Ojibwe artist Norval Morrisseau

LINK

Le Devoir

Des milliers de fausses Morrisseau.
(March 8, 2023)

 

French news coverage including statements by Morrisseau Art Consulting, Inc CEO Jonathan Sommer.

LINK

Thunder
Bay
Newswatch

More lawsuits pending over fake Norval Morrisseau art.
(June 28, 2021)

 

Lawyer Jonathan Sommer wants to hear from others who want to join an action.  Article featuring Morrisseau Art Consulting, Inc. CEO Jonathan Sommer.

LINK

Windspeaker

Win for Barenaked Ladies band member over alleged fake Morrisseau. 
(September 4, 2019)

 

“False representation,” deliberate “elusiveness” and “elements of civil fraud” perpetrated by gallery owner.  Article featuring Morrisseau Art Consulting, Inc CEO Jonathan Sommer.

LINK

Canadian
Art

Court’s New Morrisseau Forgery Decision a “Big Warning to Art Dealers.” 
(September 5, 2019)

 

Art dealing in Canada may become more transparent, some people hope, in the wake of a groundbreaking court decision issued this week.  Article featuring Morrisseau Art Consulting, Inc. CEO Jonathan Sommer.

LINK

National Post

Barenaked Ladies musician awarded $60,000 in legal battle over painting.
(September 3, 2019)

 

Toronto gallery must now pay tens of thousands of dollars to a Canadian musician who alleged he was sold a fake painting purported to be by the renowned Indigenous artist Norval Morrisseau.  Ontario’s top court says the trial judge made several errors in dismissing the legal action by Kevin Hearn, a member of the Barenaked Ladies, against the Maslak-McLeod Gallery.

LINK

Ottawa Citizen

Barenaked Ladies musician who claims he was sold fake Morrisseau painting loses lawsuit.
(May 25, 2018)

 

The judge was unable to determine whether the painting Spirit Energy of Mother Earth, bought in 2005 by Barenaked Ladies musician Kevin Hearn, is a true Morrisseau. Claims of an art-fraud ring selling fakes attributed to legendary Indigenous artist Norval Morrisseau have long tarnished his legacy and deflated the value of his work, and the art world was looking to an Ontario court case to finally settle things.  But in a ruling issued Thursday, Ontario Superior Court Justice Edward Morgan declared he is unable to determine whether the painting Spirit Energy of Mother Earth, bought in 2005 by Barenaked Ladies musician Kevin Hearn, is a true Morrisseau.

LINK

Ottawa Citizen

Picture-perfect forgery?
(April 18, 2018)

 

Art world awaits court decision on alleged fake Norval Morrisseau painting.  Since the early 2000s, persistent allegations of a fraud ring peddling fake Norval Morrisseaus have cast suspicion on countless paintings hanging in public galleries and in private collections.

LINK

CBC
News

The Van Gogh sketchbook dispute: Why it's so hard to verify art
(November 19, 2016)  

 

A dispute this week over whether drawings in a recently found sketchbook were really by Vincent Van Gogh underlines the emotionally charged and often uncertain nature of art authentication, say some experts.  

LINK

National Post

Barenaked Ladies’ keyboardist suing in what may be the biggest art forgery case in Canadian history.  
(February 3, 2014)

 

If true, the allegations by Barenaked Ladies’ keyboardist Kevin Hearn and tenor John McDermott could well signal one of the largest cases of art fraud in Canadian history.  According to a lingering — but never proven — accusation in the Canadian art world, there is a well-organized band of forgers in Thunder Bay, Ont., who have spent more than a decade churning out a lucrative supply of fakes in the style of Norval Morrisseau, arguably Canada’s most famous Aboriginal artist.  If true, it could well signal one of the largest cases of art fraud in Canadian history.

LINK

Globe &
Mail

Morrisseau has defeated the demons.
(February 7, 2006)

 

The press conference for Norval Morrisseau: Shaman Artist, at the National Gallery of Canada last week, was one of those surreal affairs that sometimes transpire in the art world, moments where the spectacle of the museum, the artist and the public is almost as fascinating as the art on display.

 

There, seated in front of his huge, vividly colourful work Androgyny, the artist sat slumped in his wheelchair. His body, at 73, has absorbed a lot of punishment; the horrors of sexual abuse during his residential-school years in Port Arthur, Ont. (now part of Thunder Bay), the ravages of an enduring alcoholism that drove him to live for a while on the streets of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside in the late 1980s, and the final indignities of Parkinson's disease, which has left his facial features limp and hanging. Talking is no longer really an option.

At his feet, a swarm of photographers crouched to get their shots of the famed Anishinabe artist. Some lay sprawled at his feet, propped on their elbows the better to wield their heavy lenses. They were pulling out all the stops, going for the most dramatic view of the artist's weather-beaten, crumbling frame, a figure that many might see as embodying the tragic, broken figure of the Indian in contemporary society. These pictures would be worth a lot. It made you want to look away.

In truth, behind the mask of his Parkinsonism, Morrisseau was having a great moment, long awaited and fully savoured, at least according to his adoptive daughter-in-law, Michele Vadas. When her husband, Gabe, stepped in after a few minutes to ask Morrisseau if he had had enough, he indicated that he had not.

LINK

Globe &
Mail

Paint Brawl.
(April 23, 2005)

 

The voice over the telephone line is no more than a slurred mumble. But the thoughts behind the words seem clear, and occasionally the words themselves spill forth in an articulate flow.

"The only thing I think about is to paint. I just want to paint. There are things in my head that I'd like to get out, but right now it can't happen."

The words are those of Norval Morrisseau, at 73 perhaps the most famous first nations painter in Canada, the man whose revolutionary, colour-packed synthesis of native mythology and personal expression pushed him into the mainstream of Canadian art and gave birth to an entire generation of painters emboldened by his themes and bravura brushwork.

Next February, the National Gallery will unveil a three-month retrospective of 60 Morrisseau works. While the National has previously included Morrisseau in some group shows, and holds three of his acrylics in its permanent collection (compared to the 100 paintings and drawings by Lawren Harris), the 2006 exhibit will mark the first time a first nations artist (as opposed to an Inuit) has been given a solo showcase in the National's 126-year history. The long delay has been a reflection of "the historical ambivalence toward native art at the gallery," says curator Greg Hill.

It's an ambivalence he hopes his exhibition will transcend by showing Morrisseau as a "prominent figure within the art history of this country as a whole."

Yet the Ojibwa artist and self-described shaman-trickster hasn't produced any new, commercially viable art in more than three years. He's living far from the Northern Ontario wilderness that originally inspired his art, in an extended care facility in Nanaimo, B.C., which has been his home since 1999. Severe Parkinson's disease and a stroke resulting, in part, from years of debilitating alcohol and drug abuse, as well as double knee-replacement surgery, have brought Morrisseau's vaunted productivity -- estimated by some to total more than 9,000 paintings -- to a halt, while confining his slumped body to a wheelchair. With no new art likely to enter the market between now and his death, whatever works out there now with a Morrisseau signature are all the more valuable.

 

But how many of them are real Morrisseaus? A fierce brawl has broken out in part over just that question, with charges related to forgeries, market manipulation and issues of authentication being hurled back and forth across the country. Morrisseau claims forgeries of his work have been "a problem for a long time." But it's in the last three years that disputes over what is or is not a Morrisseau have become especially intense -- so much so that a Toronto auctioneer who once sold Morrisseaus recently warned that the wariness those disputes are sowing "could kill the entire market."

LINK

bottom of page