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"Salmon Life Giving Spawn" a painting attributed to famous Indigenous artist Norval Morrisseau is photographed on Jan 22, 2024.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

The Ontario Provincial Police are investigating a piece of artwork attributed to prominent First Nations artist Norval Morrisseau that was removed from the Legislative Assembly of Ontario on Tuesday.

A spokesperson for the force, Gosia Puzio, said Wednesday that the OPP is seizing the painting, Salmon Life Giving Spawn, as part of Project Totton, a joint investigation with the Thunder Bay Police Service examining artworks falsely attributed to Mr. Morrisseau, a residential school survivor who died in 2007.

Queen’s Park took down the painting from a committee room in the building after The Globe and Mail asked for comment about concerns from experts who have studied Mr. Morrisseau’s work and the Morrisseau Estate.

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

The centre could not be reached for comment.

Jonathan Sommer, a lawyer who specializes in art fraud and runs a company, Morrisseau Art Consulting Inc., with Morrisseau researcher John Zemanovich, said that the painting has many features that are considered highly unusual when compared with authentic works by Mr. Morrisseau. He said the piece needed to be examined and its authenticity determined.

The artwork had characteristics consistent with artwork that has been previously investigated by the OPP, Mr. Sommer added.

Cory Dingle, executive director of the Morrisseau Estate, said the estate had “serious concerns” about the legitimacy of the painting and called for the piece to be handed over to the OPP for its investigation into forgeries of Mr. Morrisseau’s artwork.

Last March, after 2½ years of investigation, the OPP and Thunder Bay Police announced eight arrests and said more than 1,000 pieces of art had been seized as part of their work.

The lead investigator, Detective Staff Sergeant Jason Rybak with the Thunder Bay Police Service, estimated at the time that there could be between 4,500 and 6,000 Morrisseau forgeries in circulation and that “this would make it the biggest art fraud in world history.”

In December, Thunder Bay resident Gary Lamont was sentenced to five years in prison. A statement of agreed facts said Mr. Lamont sold forgeries to “various individuals and galleries across Canada, where they were subsequently purchased by unsuspecting members of the public.”

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.

Valérie Dufour, a senior manager of strategic communications for the NCC, said the Crown corporation, which is dedicated to the capital region, is “collaborating with the authorities to verify the authenticity of the artwork which is no longer displayed.” She said the artwork was taken down in May, 2021.

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