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Canadian police arrest 8 in ‘biggest art fraud in world history’

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The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) on March 3 revealed that they had arrested eight people in connection with “the biggest art fraud in the history of the world”. Those detained were allegedly involved in the forgery and sale of works of art attributed to the famous Ojibwa artist Norval Morrisseau, nicknamed “the Picasso of the North”. The fraud scheme is said to have lasted for decades and aroused suspicion even before the artist’s death in 2007.

The arrests followed a two-and-a-half-year investigation by the Ontario Provincial Police with the assistance of the Thunder Bay Police Service. Those caught in the March 1 sting – including a nephew of the painter – belonged to three separate forgery groups, which were inaugurated in 1996, 2002 and 2008 respectively. forged in the style of the Woodlands School of Art established by Bingwi Neyaashi Anishinaabek First Nation member Morrisseau were also captured during the operation. Some of these works have been sold for tens of thousands of dollars.

Police believe the fraudsters were involved in the creation and circulation of 4,000 to 6,500 forged Morisseau works, with an estimated total value of $100 million. Many paintings are said to have been created by children forced to work in sweatshops, and still others by young indigenous artists who were taken advantage of by the defendants.

The investigation was sparked by a 2019 documentary by Canadian filmmaker Jamie Kastner titled There is no fake. The film investigated allegations of fraud related to a Morrisseau painting purchased by Kevin Hearn, a member of Canadian rock band Barenaked Ladies, who eventually won a lawsuit against the gallery that sold him the work.

Morrisseau, who signed his canvases “Copper Thunderbird,” in his native language, centered Indigenous cosmology in his work, which often featured erotic themes or evoked cultural or political tensions between Indigenous Canadians and settlers. He was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 1978.


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