Ontario police have arrested eight people in connection with the forgery of thousands of artworks by a popular indigenous artist.

Norval Morrisseau was a painter from the Bingwi Neyaashi Anishinaabek First Nation in Ontario, Canada. Known as the “Picasso of the North,” he was a pioneer of contemporary indigenous art in Canada. He was incredibly prolific, with so many original works that there is no comprehensive catalog today.

This, unfortunately, made Morrisseau’s work an ideal target for art forgery.

In 2005, upset by growing numbers of forgeries appearing in galleries and art auctions, Morrisseau established the Norval Morrisseau Heritage Society. The purpose of the Society was to compile a database of authentic paintings, and discredit forgeries. Morrisseau passed away in 2007, but the Society continues its work and is now the sole authority to accredit Morrisseau paintings.

In 2019, a new flood of fake Morrisseau works came to light during the investigation of the murder of a man named Scott Dove. The dead man’s mother pointed detectives to the documentary “There Are No Fakes,” hosted by Barenaked Ladies artist Kevin Hearn after learning a Morrisseau he had purchased from a gallery in Toronto was a forgery. The documentarians had found evidence of a forgery ring behind Hearn’s fake, and had evidence that the artworks were being churned out by children working in sweatshop-like conditions.

Jumping off of what the documentary had uncovered, Ontario police soon had a warrant for the home of Gary Lamont, where they found hundreds of supposed Morrisseau paintings.

Together with Lamont, the Ontario police arrested seven other people, including Benjamin Paul Morrisseau, nephew of the late artist.

The forgers “knew his lifestyle,” said Detective Sargent Jason Rybeck. “They knew that he had struggles. They knew that he never kept a list of his paintings… At times [Morrisseau] would just give paintings away to people for milk and and eggs, and so they knew that there was no way in their mind of tracking legitimate paintings.”

Photo: Solodov Aleksei / Shutterstock