Hatfield vs. Artworld of Sherway
/Court File No. SC-09-087264-0000/
A landmark court decision confirms the authenticity of thousands of Norval Morrisseau paintings!
~ The following is the analysis and decision of Deputy Judge Paul J. Martial's judgement dated March 25th, 2013 and officially issued by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice on April 2nd, 2013 (Pages 35 - 39)
The Court has considered in excess of some 750 pages of testimony over five days of hearing and reviewed the exhibits and considered the detailed written submissions of counsel.
The Court finds that there is overwhelming evidence that Norval Morrisseau signed paintings in black brush paint.
The eye witness testimony of his brother Wilfred Morrisseau who lived with him for substantial periods of time in the North and elsewhere and who saw him sign in black brush paint is convincing and credible.
The testimony of Marlow Goring supports his testimony in regards to the practise of the artist signing paintings in black brush.
Wilfred Morrisseau's testimony that his brother painted while in jail and his explanation of his brother's decadent lifestyle and his carefree attitude to life provides a cogent explanation for the lack of receipts to document the provenance.
The Court adopts Wilfred Morrisseau's testimony that his brother painted a significant number of paintings en masse and it is therefore reasonable to conclude that his production was in the thousands.
The testimony of Mr. Joseph McLeod is indicative of his care and the detailed efforts to confirm provenance, including the hiring of a forensic expert to examine the signature on the back of the painting indicate that he took his role to provide appraisals seriously.
His testimony of the origin of the Cree syllabic signature, the name Copper Thunderbird and his interpretation of the painting "Wheel of Life" demonstrates his depth of knowledge of the painter due to his lengthy association with the artist.
His explanation of the brown more muted colour of the painting compared to the brighter later paintings is credible when considered in the context of pictographs near Lac Seul and in Nipigon where Morrisseau lived and likely the inspiration of the earlier paintings. Such pictographs were also known to exist in the Petroglyphs near Peterborough where Morrisseau formerly resided.
The Defendants acted reasonably in obtaining one of two appraisals from Mr. Joseph McLeod to authenticate the painting due to his knowledge of and prior dealings with the artist due to the controversy about provenance.
The Court received the statutory declarations of Norval Morrisseau and letters filed by the Plaintiff in support of the allegation of forgery. This evidence was relevant and although hearsay was admitted since it was relevant to the central issue - Was the painting a forgery?
In assessing the reliability of that evidence however, the Court notes that since this evidence was not subject to cross-examination it had to be carefully weighed in light of the testimony of all of the witnesses.
The Plaintiff's own witness Donald Robinson provided viva voce testimony of Norval Morrisseau's inconsistency and difficulty in identifying his own work, and of his unpredictability.
He agreed that Morrisseau could have memory problems from 2003 to 2006, and of his decline in health due to his illness.
Robinson's admission that he was not surprised that Morrisseau would sign a certificate of authenticity to please also cast doubt on the reliability of the statutory declarations signed by Morrisseau.
His testimony coupled with the testimony of other witnesses of Morrisseau's Parkinson's disease raises a significant doubt of the reliability of the statutory declarations.
Although a letter from a lawyer who was present at the signing of the statutory declaration and a doctor's letter were filed at trial, no expert testimony of capacity was proffered by the Plaintiff on such a key issue.
Mr. Robinson was qualified as an expert in the area of valuation and appraisal. His testimony however overlapped into the area of handwriting and included an analysis of syllabic and English handwriting, areas for which he was not qualified.
He has no formal training as an expert witness in handwriting analysis and his evidence is rejected.
Dr. Singla's forensic evidence is preferred in this regard and his finding that it is highly probable that the painting "Wheel of Life" was painted by Norval Morrisseau was supported by his detailed technical analysis of known signatures of' Norval Morrisseau.
Mr. Robinson also testified as to his personal dealings with Morrisseau paintings. It was his view that there were a large number of forgeries.
It was also clear that his personal views and business interests conflicted with his professional opinion since it was in his interest along with Mr. Vadas to maintain the price of Morrisseau paintings which would not otherwise be the case if the market was flooded with paintings sourced from Potter auctions.
The Court rejects his expert report and his conclusion that the Morellian analysis, style, colour, and provenance all pointed to forgery.
Mr. Joseph McLeod's testimony is preferred to that of Mr. Ritchie Sinclair. Mr. Sinclair's testimony of numerous forgers paid for with drugs although dramatic was not supported by the evidence.
After a careful consideration of all of the evidence, the Court finds that on the balance of probabilities that the painting "Wheel of Life" dated February 1979 is an original Norval Morrisseau and undoubtedly one of his most notorious paintings.
The painting “Wheel of Life" is not a forgery. The Defendants did not misrepresent the authenticity of the painting.
The Plaintiff's claim is dismissed with costs fixed at $1,500.00 dollars pursuant to the written submissions of counsel.
Dated at Toronto this 25th day of March 2013.
~ This document, issued by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, also includes the introduction, plaintiff's and defence evidence as well as summary of testimonies by Ms. Margaret Hatfield, Mr. Donald Robinson, Mr. Ritchie Sinclair, Ms. Donna Child, Mr. Wilfred Morrisseau, Mr. Kevin Cott, Mr. Joseph McLeod, Mr. Marlow Goring, Dr. Atul K. Singla and Mr. James White.
Source: Deputy Judge Paul J. Martial's judgement
/'Court rules disputed Morrisseau painting is authentic'/;
- Experts in Norval Morrisseau's Art (Part I) /Ref.: Mr. Joseph McLeod/,
- Signatures on Norval Morrisseau artworks certified by Forensic Science,
- Hatfield, Margaret Lorraine vs. Child, Donna and Artworld of Sherway (Part I),
- Hatfield, Margaret Lorraine vs. Child, Donna and Artworld of Sherway (Part II),
- Hatfield, Margaret Lorraine vs. Child, Donna and Artworld of Sherway (Part III),
- Hatfield, Margaret Lorraine vs. Child, Donna and Artworld of Sherway (Part IV),
- Hatfield, Margaret Lorraine vs. Child, Donna and Artworld of Sherway (Part V),
- Hatfield, Margaret Lorraine vs. Child, Donna and Artworld of Sherway (Part VI),
CURRENT OWNERSHIP: Private Collection of Ms. Margaret L. Hatfield;
SOURCE: Randy Potter Estate Auction, Pickering, Ontario.