Over the past few years there have been questions raised as to the authenticity of several works attributed to prominent Ojibway artist Norval Morrisseau. In the past four years no less than 130 have come on the market, ranging in price from $225 to $14,500, with the great majority turning up in the 2000/2001 season. This recent inundation of Morrisseau art has sent ripples of unrest and uncertainty through the art community and has prompted the formation of a committee of authentication for the artist's work.
The committee is being established in part to protect the market against fakes, and in part to establish an authorized inventory of the artist's paintings. Prominent Toronto lawyer, author and art collector Aaron Milrad is the counsel for Morrisseau and he said recently that the committee would consist of five experts in the artist's work, but excluding anyone from the Kinsman Robinson Gallery, Morrisseau's sole authorized representatives in Canada. The gallery has handled Morrisseau's paintings since 1989 and are clearly the principal experts for the artist's work, but they have been left off the committee to avoid any charges of bias or prejudice.
The committee is expected to convene no later than the end of April, and collectors are invited to contact the committee if they have a Morrisseau painting and would like it authenticated. Milrad pointed out, however, that anyone submitting a work for authentication would have to sign a contract which would, in effect, absolve Morrisseau, his family, Milrad and members of the committee of "any liability if the committee comes back and says, 'It's not a Morrisseau.'"
In parts of Europe works submitted for authentication that turn out to be fake are not returned to the client, and many are even destroyed. It is unlikely the Morrisseau committee will go that far, but you can be certain they will document each submitted work thoroughly and watch the market to make sure it does not surface anywhere as an authenticate Morrisseau work.
In addition to the committee, Milrad and the Morrisseau family have hired a private investigator to try and track down the source of the recent spate of Morrisseau fakes.
Norval Morrisseau, who turned 73 this March, currently resides in a nursing home in Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, where he's being treated for Parkinson's disease a condition that has all but ended his artistic career.
The following is Norval Morrisseau's entry in The Collector's Dictionary of Canadian Artists at Auction, Volume III: M-R:
MORRISSEAU, Norval H. (Copper Thunderbird) RCAe, OC (1931-active 2005). Born in Beardmore/Fort William, Ontario, Morrisseau is a self-taught Ojibway artist who began to paint in 1959. Working in acrylic, oil, ink, gouache, tempera, silkscreen, wood and textiles, he is known for his bold symbolic designs and bright flat colours painted in a unique manner that blended a traditional style of native art with contemporary painting. His paintings, prints and carvings depict his Ojibway rituals, ceremonies and legends. He associated with other Woodland artists such as Daphne Odjig, Alex Simeon Janvier, Jackson Beardy and Carl Ray in Beardmore, Ontario and also lived in Manitoba, on Vancouver Island, and in Vancouver British Columbia. He has illustrated several books including Windigo and Other Tales of the Ojibways (1965), and Legends of my People (1965). Morrisseau held a solo exhibition of his work at the MQ in 1966, exhibited a mural in the Indian Pavilion at Expo 67 in Montreal, and showed at the UBC Museum of Anthropology in 2000. His work is in the collections of the AGO CCAB, GM HAG, MCMC, ROM, and WAG.