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'The great Canadian art fraud case' by Jon S. Dellandrea

The Group of Seven and Tom Thomson forgeries

The Great Canadian Art Fraud Case

AUTHOR Jon S. Dellandrea
PUBLISHER Goose Lane Editions
GENRE Non-Fiction
RELEASE DATE October 18, 2022
ISBN 978-1773102535

Goose Lane Editions
Goose Lane Editions

Bought a painting recently? 

Peered through the window of an art gallery – and wished!  

Waited in an uncomfortable chair for the gavel to bang in your favour for that oil-on-canvas you have fallen for.  

Dellandrea, a highly successful university executive and educator, probably did all three as his interest and knowledge in fine art grew. But it wasn’t until seven years ago when he was given a cardboard box that had seen better days, that his interest flared into obsession.  

The box contained the last effects of an obscure artist, William Firth MacGregor (1896-1973), along with the details of a long-forgotten trial in the 1960s concerning forgeries of iconic paintings of Canada’s most famous artists, Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven among them.  

This is where the town we call home has a supporting role. Among the probably hundreds of works forged during those years, sometimes simply by removing the real painter’s name and replacing it with a more famous one, were several works originally painted by Oakville’s own Thomas Chatfield (1921-1999) as a young man. When he discovered that some of his paintings had been desecrated, he was so upset he is said to have radically changed his style. 

So, next time you are in Oakville Central Library on Navy Street, admire Chatfield’s oil on canvas titled Montreal River, which has had pride of place there for many years. His paintings have also been exhibited just about anywhere Canadian fine art is put on show. They are a regular feature in the Abbozzo Gallery in Toronto, just as they were when the well-known gallery had pride of place in downtown Oakville. (In the interest of disclosure, your reviewer wrote a story about Mr. Chatfield and his art for The Hamilton Spectator many years ago.) 

THE GREAT CANADIAN ART FRAUD CASE reads like the detective story it actually is. It even boasts a real-life police inspector as the protagonist who delves dutifully into a subject that he initially knows practically nothing about but becomes a bonafide art expert and the hero of the hour. Yet, not even the inspector could supply a definitive answer to just who the forger was. (Surely, a painter whose considerable talents could have led to a very different career.) 

It is left to Dellandrea to point the finger, following his years of painstaking research among dusty archives and ramshackle attics, tracking down anyone who had even the briefest recollection of the case as well as those involved in it.   

This large, coffee-table-style book brings to life an almost forgotten scandal amply illustrated by photographs that, in several instances, show the fakes cheek-by-jowl with the genuine article.

But this is no time for complacency, warns Dellandrea in his final chapter, titled Buyer Beware! Many fakes from that tumultuous period in Canadian art are likely still out there, waiting for another credulous buyer. No doubt that is also the case in today’s global art market.

What were you saying about that small oil-on-board your grandmother always maintained was by Tom Thomson? Perhaps it is time to look again!

Goose Lane Editions published THE GREAT CANADIAN ART FRAUD CASE by Jon S. Dellandrea in Oct. 2022. It is available as a hardcover for $47.50 or a Kindle edition for $19.99.