The Question of Authenticity

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The Abomination
Made into a truth and renamed Jan. 17, 2010

There is a controversy about the authenticity of some Morrisseau paintings that are in the market place. I receive requests daily to authenticate paintings allegedly done by Norval Morrisseau. The majority of these requests come from people that have bought paintings and then realize that they may have been duped into purchasing something that is not an authentic Morrisseau painting.

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I purchased the above 2 paintings years ago from a Winnipeg art dealer. When I showed them to Morrisseau he told me that they were fakes and he did not paint them. This started me on years of research about questionable pieces, alleged to have been painted by Morrisseau. During this time I talked extensively with Morrisseau about these and other paintings in the same style that are or have been in the marketplace. I pointed out to him that many of these questionable paintings were being sold on ebay. He asked me to try to warn people about these paintings which lead me to posting a notice about them on my own ebay listings.

There are many reasons to doubt these painting's authenticity.

First and foremost is the fact that Morrisseau personally told me on many occasions that he did not paint them. This alone is enough for me to doubt them. He also made this statement in newspaper articles and to many other people.
Globe and Mail article from Feb 14, 2007

There are no photographs of Morrisseau painting this style of painting. There are many photos of him working but none show this style. Below left is a picture of Morrisseau working on a painting in 1979. It was posted on the Norval Morrisseau blog as proof that Morrisseau painted in the questionable style. With a small amount of manipulation I obtained a better view of this painting that shows clearly that it is not in the questionable style. Click on the pics for a larger version.

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Most of the questionable paintings are dated from the 1970s, as are the 2 at the top of this page. They are usually dated, titled and signed in English on the back with black  scratchy paint. I worked closely with Morrisseau for 20 years, from 1987 until he died in 2007. I obtained 100s of paintings directly from him, many of them painted in our studio in Aldergrove, British Columbia. Not one of them was signed in this way. I have studied many of his paintings from the 70's and have never found one that is a documented piece that is signed this way. Richie Sinclair, who apprenticed and worked with Morrisseau from 1979 to 1983 has confirmed this fact that Morrisseau did not sign his work in this method when he worked with him.

During the 70's Jack Pollack of the Pollack Gallery was Morrisseau's main dealer. Jack is credited with bringing Morrisseau into the Canadian art scene and he had many successful shows during this time. Yet not one of these "70s" style paintings claims provenance back to the Pollack Gallery. Not one of these pieces has surfaced with a Pollack Gallery label on it. In 1979 Jack Pollack, along with Lister Sinclair, published the book "The Art Of Norval Morrisseau". This book has become the definitive reference of Morrisseau's work from this time period, Yet it does not include any paintings in this style.

There is no record of any of these paintings in the primary market. No gallery or dealer has ever claimed to have obtained one of these paintings directly from the artist. They are all purported to have come from other collectors and collections. Not one of these so called collectors has proven provenance back to Morrisseau. Provenance is important in establishing authenticity. Sourced from a gentleman collector does not cut it.

Over a thousand of these questionable paintings have been sold through an auction house in Port Hope, Ontario. The auctioneer claims that these all came from the same source, a Mr. David Voss of Thunderbay, Ontario. It is claimed that Voss amassed this huge collection from reserves and other collectors in Northern Ontario. David Voss has never bought a painting directly from Norval Morrisseau. It seems ridiculous that someone could put together a collection of this size without having a direct connection to the artist. The fact that all these paintings are in the style of the questionable works and are not the same as documented paintings from the same time period casts further doubt on the credibility of this story.
Who is David Voss? Someone that has done this amount of collecting would surly be accessible. Yet I have tried in vain to find this person. I have found no record of a person by this name ever living in Thunderbay. I would truly like to hear from him and find out how he was able to collect so many paintings.
The Norval Morrisseau Blog states that Donald Robinson of Kinsman Robinson Gallery in Toronto has communicated with Voss. This is not true. Donald Robinson has never spoken to him and has no contact information for him. This is more mis-information being spread by The Norval Morrisseau blog to try and give some credibility to these ugly paintings.

There are no pieces in public collections that were obtained by purchase or donation during the time period. Any donations of these questionable works occurred in the last few years

And then there are the paintings themselves. The questionable works are generally dark and ugly. You do not need to be an expert to pick out these abominations (this was Norval's adjective for them). They do not show the color palate of a master painter like Morrisseau. The images of animals are very demonic and the human profiles are simplistic and cartoon like.

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Important Links

For authentic information on the works of Norval Morrisseau
The authentic Norval Morrisseau Blog

Read Morrisseau's sworn declarations, Info on legal cases and other pertenant information
Morrisseau Buyers Beware

See over 1000 of these questionable works along with many authentic ones for comparison.
The Norval Morrisseau Gathering Place

Morrisseau news updates on Mark Anthony Jakobson's blog
Rainbow Thunderbird Blog

See the study done at the Pennsylvania State University
Characterizing Elegance of Curve

Hear a CBC radio article about Morrisseau Authenticity
It is about 2/3 through Part I
As It Happens

 

I believe this situation is an attack on Canadian culture. By injecting these inferior pieces into Morrisseau's body of work, his place in art history is being undermined. The fact that Norval Morrisseau personally dis-avowed authorship of these pieces should be enough for anyone. To not believe him does him great dis-honor.

 

This text is the intellectual property of Coghlan Art and the artist.
Use of this text is prohibited under Canadian copyright except by permission.

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