Que­bec artist ac­quit­ted of forgery

Windsor Star - - CANADA - PAUL CHERRY

MON­TREAL • An ac­com­plished Mon­treal artist who was charged with forg­ing the name of one of Que­bec’s best-known painters onto one of his own paint­ings was ac­quit­ted Thurs­day af­ter the Crown con­ceded it was not in the pub­lic’s in­ter­est to pur­sue the case.

As part of the agree­ment, Michel Ver­meulen has agreed to be ac­com­pa­nied to a po­lice sta­tion to, ap­par­ently, re­move Riopelle’s name from the can­vas and re­place it with his own sig­na­ture. De­fence lawyer Mia Manoc­chio said as much in court, but us­ing le­gal terms. She said Ver­meulen would “make cer­tain mod­i­fi­ca­tions to make sure the (paint­ing) is (cor­rected).”

Sport­ing a pair of black shoes with long metal tips, Ver­meulen, 56, pumped both his fists out­ward as prose­cu­tor Cé­line Bilodeau in­formed Su­pe­rior Court Jus­tice Jo­hanne St-Ge­lais of the Crown’s de­ci­sion dur­ing a brief hear­ing at the Mon­treal court­house.

Last year, Ver­meulen was charged with forgery and at­tempt­ing to sell a paint­ing he knew was a forgery af­ter some­one in­formed po­lice he was try­ing to sell a paint­ing on eBay for nearly $300,000. The paint­ing had the sig­na­ture of Jean-Paul Riopelle, but it was not be­lieved to be Riopelle’s work. In­ves­ti­ga­tors sus­pected that Ver­meulen signed Riopelle’s name to a work Ver­meulen had done and was at­tempt­ing to use Riopelle’s name recog­ni­tion to make money off of it.

The de­ceased artist’s work is rec­og­nized in­ter­na­tion­ally and sev­eral of his paint­ings have sold for more than $1 mil­lion over the past decade. Riopelle, who grad­u­ated from École des Beaux-arts de Mon­tréal in 1945, was taught there by Paul-Émile Bor­d­uas, another of Que­bec’s best­known artists.

One of Riopelle’s sculp­tures, La Joute, is on per­ma­nent dis­play in a foun­tain as part of the pub­lic space named af­ter the artist in the Quartier in­ter­na­tional de Mon­tréal.

Ear­lier this year, Ver­meulen in­sisted on hav­ing a trial be­fore a jury. But dur­ing a court hear­ing last month, St-Ge­lais, the co-or­di­nat­ing judge for all Su­pe­rior Court tri­als held at court­houses in the Mon­treal area, ap­peared stunned when Bilodeau said the Crown would only re­quire four hours to make its case, while one of Ver­meulen’s lawyers said he planned to present a de­fence that would last sev­eral days.

St-Ge­lais asked both sides to dis­cuss mat­ters fur­ther be­fore she set aside two weeks for a trial be­fore a jury, which are nor­mally used to hear much more im­por­tant types of cases, such as mur­der.

On Thurs­day, Bilodeau said that, fol­low­ing a thor­ough re­view of the case, the pros­e­cu­tion felt it was not in the pub­lic’s in­ter­est to pur­sue the mat­ter.

Out­side the court­room, Manoc­chio said her client was re­lieved to hear the charges were be­ing with­drawn.

“It is very rea­son­able on be­half of the Crown to have looked at the case and to have with­drawn the charges,” Manoc­chio said, while sug­gest­ing her client learned his les­son. “I don’t think we’ll ever see him here (at the court­house) again.”

On his web­site, Ver­meulen has re­ferred to Riopelle as hav­ing been a “men­tor and friend.”

He also quoted Riopelle as hav­ing once said: “When you’re deal­ing with a Ver­meulen can­vas, one can feel the source of the en­ergy flow as if he had trans­ferred it into the can­vas, so that it stays in­tact when you re­turn home later on.”

Michel Ver­meulen

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