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In the early 2000’s, despite his declining physical health, the iconic Canadian artist Norval Morrisseau (1934-2007) had his lawyers prepare several sworn declarations in which he identified a large number of paintings that bore his signature, but which he claimed were not by his hand. He referred to them as “fakes and imitations”. He then named the various galleries that were selling those works.

Building on Morrisseau’s efforts, for the last 20 years, the battle to stop the proliferation of fakes has waged. Lawyers, doctors, Morrisseau’s friends, apprentice and estate, as well as leading Indigenous art scholars, government workers and many others, including Kevin Hearn of the Barenaked Ladies, have tried to help in Morrisseau’s battle by exposing the existence of a fraud ring manufacturing fake Morrisseau paintings. The 2019 film There Are No Fakes helped to bring this issue into the public view. Finally, in the last few years, after hearing testimony from people inside the fraud ring itself, the Ontario Superior and Appeal courts recognized the existence of that fraud. The courts also found that the Maslak-McLeod Gallery, a vendor of works attributed to Morrisseau, had acted fraudulently. Recently, following a large-scale police investigation into the fraud, 8 people were arrested (see: CBC Report on Art Fraud Arrests). In December of 2023, one of the leaders of the fraud, Gary Lamont, pleaded guilty to fraud, and admitted that he ran a fraud ring that produced and sold hundreds of fake Norval Morrisseau paintings.

Jonathan Sommer was the trial lawyer against Maslak-McLeod and assisted in the successful appeal. Over the last 14 years, he conducted thousands hours of legal work and investigations into the Morrisseau fraud issue. He has also handled many other art fraud investigations and has provided advice to many victims of forgery, art theft and copyright infringement. He works with a wide range of consultants and contacts in the worlds of art expertise, forensic science and law enforcement.

If you have, or are considering acquiring, works of Norval Morrisseau or another artist, but you have concerns, or just want to be careful, Mr. Sommer can help. Similarly, if you are a dealer faced with authenticity problems or other artwork-related legal issues, Mr. Sommer is the lawyer to consult.

Sommer Law provides the following artwork-related services:

-Legal opinions of authenticity*

-Investigations into authenticity

-Advice regarding art crime

-Advice regarding the purchase and sale of artworks

-Negotiation and litigation of art-related disputes

-Copyright law advice

*Sommer Law uses the expert services of Morrisseau Art Consulting Inc. for authenticity examinations of alleged Norval Morrisseau artworks.

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