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'Salmon Life Giving Spawn,' a painting attributed to Indigenous artist Norval Morrisseau, is no longer on exhibit at the Legislative Assembly of Ontario after authenticity concerns were raised.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

The Legislative Assembly of Ontario has removed artwork attributed to acclaimed First Nations artist Norval Morrisseau over concerns raised about its authenticity.

The painting, known as Salmon Life Giving Spawn, was among artwork that was hanging at the Ontario Legislature. It was located on the wall of a committee room but taken down on Tuesday.

Queen’s Park removed the painting after The Globe and Mail asked for comment about concerns from experts who have studied Mr. Morrisseau’s work, as well as the Morrisseau Estate.

Mr. Morrisseau, who was also known as Copper Thunderbird, is a renowned artist and residential school survivor who received honours including the Order of Canada during his life. He died in 2007 and his estate says his legacy has been significantly affected by the market being flooded with inauthentic paintings, including more than 1,000 that were seized last year as part of a joint art fraud investigation conducted by the Ontario Provincial Police and Thunder Bay Police Service.

Nina Zemko, a spokesperson with the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, said Tuesday that Salmon Life Giving Spawn has been on loan from the Whetung Ojibwa Centre and that the painting has “been removed until further information can be obtained about its provenance.”

The Whetung Ojibwa Centre is located on the Curve Lake First Nation. The Globe could not reach a representative at the centre for comment. An automatic reply said the centre was closed because of its annual winter holiday.

Jonathan Sommer is a lawyer who specializes in art fraud and runs a company, Morrisseau Art Consulting Inc., with Morrisseau researcher John Zemanovich. Their company investigates and examines work attributed to Mr. Morrisseau. Mr. Sommer said Salmon Life Giving Spawn has a number of features that are highly unusual when compared to authentic works by Mr. Morrisseau.

“This work ought to be examined, including an investigation into its provenance and its authenticity determined,” Mr. Sommer said.

He also said the artwork had characteristics consistent with artwork that has been previously investigated by the OPP.

Cory Dingle, the executive director of the estate, also told The Globe that it has “serious concerns about the legitimacy of the painting” and said the piece should be handed over to the OPP as part of its investigation on forgeries of Mr. Morrisseau’s work.

Gosia Puzio, a spokesperson for the OPP, said Tuesday that the force is “aware of the artwork and is following up on it.”

Mr. Sommer said if the painting is found through an examination to be a fake, it should be thoroughly documented and marked permanently as a fraudulent piece or destroyed.

Last March, the OPP and the Thunder Bay Police Service arrested eight individuals for their involvement in an alleged fraudulent manufacturing and distribution of artwork purported to be created by Mr. Morrisseau.

The charges were laid after a 2½-year investigation in which fraudulent paintings, prints and other artworks were seized. In December, Thunder Bay resident Gary Lamont was sentenced to five years in prison. A statement of agreed facts said Mr. Lamont sold the forgeries to “various individuals and galleries across Canada, where they were subsequently purchased by unsuspecting members of the public.”

An online document about artwork at the Ontario Legislature says Salmon Life Giving Spawn is from 1977.

Ritchie Sinclair, an artist and close friend of Mr. Morrisseau from 1979 until his 2007 death, has been working for numerous years to expose paintings he believes to be forged in Mr. Morrisseau’s name. In an interview, he said Salmon Life Giving Spawn’s place at Ontario’s legislature is indicative of one of the ways that the art scheme worked, which involved donations to institutions.

He said his personal view is that any painting, including this one, that exhibits a black-dry brush signature on the back of it should be turned in to the Morrisseau Estate for destruction. The dry-brush signature is a feature that has appeared on paintings attributed to Mr. Morrisseau that were seized by the OPP.

Mr. Sinclair said it’s great to learn that Salmon Life Giving Spawn has been removed at the Ontario Legislature. He said attention is “finally being focused” on the issue of Morrisseau art fraud and that “we are going to find that other ones in other institutions are similar to this one.”

On Friday, The Globe reported that the National Capital Commission is working with the OPP to investigate the authenticity of another painting known as Circle of Four, which is attributed to Mr. Morrisseau and was previously on display at the headquarters for Global Affairs Canada in Ottawa.

With a report from Jeff Gray in Toronto

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