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Morrisseau children reach out-of-court settlement over artist's estate

Androgyny, a work by Norval Morriseau

Sgt Serge Gouin, Rideau Hall/Sgt Serge Gouin, Rideau Hall

The seven adult children of famed Ojibwa artist Norval Morrisseau have reached an out-of-court settlement with the now-deceased painter's long-time caregiver and trustee that will see the children "share in [their father's]estate [and]artistic legacy."

The deal, announced Wednesday, curtails a suit the children filed in June, 2010, in British Columbia Supreme Court that challenged the validity of the artist's will, reportedly drafted in 1999. Morrisseau, diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in the early 1990s, died in a Toronto hospital in December, 2007, at 76, having spent most of his final 20 years living in B.C. being cared for by Nanaimo-based Gabor Vadas and his family. Vadas, 46, befriended Morrisseau, known as the founder of the Woodland School of Indian art, in the late 1980s when they were both living on the streets of Vancouver.

The court action was expected to be heard some time this year. In its 2010 statement of claim, the seven children – five brothers, two sisters – alleged the will had been executed "under suspicious circumstances." They wanted the court to declare it invalid "because of undue influence by Mr. Vadas."

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Precise terms of the settlement were not disclosed. However, in a statement approved by both parties, Ted Charney, a Toronto-based lawyer acting as co-counsel for the children, said the new arrangement "ensures" the family "are able to share in the management of their father's artistic legacy while also recognizing the important role that the Vadas family played in Mr. Morrisseau's life." The release also said Morrisseau's children want to aid the artist's "native community through projects such as a memorial meeting house for artists in Keewaywin," the Northern Ontario community where the artist was buried in 2008 alongside his estranged wife, Harriet Kakegamic.

Perhaps most significantly, the statement says the children "wish to enhance the legacy of [their father's]art" through the "proper management of the copyright of his art." Morrisseau is estimated to have painted as many as 15,000 individual works in his lifetime, with the artist allegedly leaving more than 300 to Vadas's care at the time of his death. In recent years, there has been a plethora of claims and counterclaims, including lawsuits, over the authenticity of many of the works that have come to market.

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