Quebec artist acquitted of forgery
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.”