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Alleged fake Morrisseau painting seized from Ontario legislature

A piece of artwork hanging in the Ontario legislature was seized by police Thursday amid allegations that it was not painted by prominent Indigenous artist Norval Morrisseau as was originally claimed.

In a statement to CTV News Toronto, Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) said the piece, called “Salmon Life Giving Spawn,” was removed today as part of a broader art fraud investigation.

The piece was part of an exhibit at Queen’s Park called Gathering Place, whose goal is to “bring forward and honour the experiences of the many Indigenous peoples living in Ontario, as well as to build a bridge of understanding between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities.”

The artwork for the exhibit was loaned to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario by artists and communities across the province. According to a 2023 brochure on the exhibit, “Salmon Life Giving Spawn” was painted in 1977 and was on loan from the Whetung Ojibwa Centre. The centre, which is closed until Friday, did not respond to requests for comment.

A spokesperson for the Legislative Assembly of Ontario confirmed to CTV News Toronto the painting had been removed “until further information can be obtained about its provenance.”

“The Legislative Assembly is working with all necessary groups to help facilitate this process,” Nina Zemko said.

It’s unclear how long the painting was hanging on the walls of the legislature.

Alleged fake Morrisseau painting seized from Ontario legislatureIndigenous artist Norval Morrisseau says he is happy sketching in the streets of Vancouver as he poses in front of one of his earlier paintings at a Vancouver gallery on Monday, May 11, 1987. The OPP say they have been investigating alleged fraudulent art that is being made and sold under Morrisseau’s name. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chuck Stoody

This isn’t the first time a Morrisseau painting has been determined to be fraudulent.

Eight people have been arrested and charged since 2020 under a joint OPP and Thunder Bay Police Service investigation called Project Totton, tasked with reviewing allegations of counterfeit Morrisseau work that has been produced, distributed and sold. It was under this investigation the painting at Queen’s Park was seized.

More than 1,000 counterfeit paintings, prints and artwork have been seized so far.

In December, one of the eight suspects arrested in the investigation was sentenced to five years in prison after pleading guilty to making false documents and defrauding the public of more than $5,000.

Charges were withdrawn against that individual’s partner. Six others are still waiting for their day in court, including Morrisseau’s 53-year-old nephew.

The OPP will continue to investigate related claims that may arise,” Gosia Puzio, a spokesperson for the OPP, said of Project Totton.

Morrisseau is widely known as the “Picasso of the North” and is considered a leader of contemporary Indigenous art in Canada.