Donald Robinson claims:
– Kinsman Robinson Galleries “weren’t interested in increasing prices,” and that he was only interested in “a small profit” and “small price increases” of “five and ten percent,” for Morrisseau paintings sold by his gallery…
Robinson was playing the retiring, bashful, and reluctant marketeer, while trying to win top points for altruism – as Mother Teresa in a suit – and to downplay business greed as a motivating factor, in order to survive a hostile cross examination by Defence Counsel Robert Dowhan, so that Judge Paul Martial would grant him “expert witness” status, in the Hatfield v Child case.
(Expert Witness: an expert witness is an independent, “arm’s length” witness who has no financial or personal interest in skewing the testimony he will give.)
Testimony #1 – “Q. So if I understand that statement, you wanted to increase the price of the paintings that were currently being supplied to the Kinsman Robinson Gallery, by him, and you implemented that marketing plan to do that, correct?
A. No, I don’t think that’s quite correct. We weren’t interested in increasing the prices. Well, we obviously wanted to have a small – I always wanted a small gradual increase in prices over a long period of time. I thought that was the right way to go to market his paintings, very small increases, perhaps five to ten percent a year but, in fact, at the time we were doing this, the problem was that in, in B.C. and Vancouver, prices were phenomenally lower than they were in Ontario and that did not seem right so our objective was to get the prices up perhaps in places where they were too low, not necessarily to, essentially to raise Toronto prices.” (Court Trans/Hatfield v Child: May 31, 2011 p 8)
(Note: Then Dowhan asked about what Robinson did with the Wanker 31 – the so-called fakes he bought at Randy Potter auctions. Again Robinson tries to impress Judge Martial that they were of marginal interest to him and his business, and that he’d have no financial conflict of interest to influence him into skewing his testimony for personal gain. He was telling the judge he’d make a very credible expert witness. Please…)
Testimony #2 – “As I – I really didn’t want them very much; my aim in purchasing them was to put them aside…” (Court Trans/Hatfield v Child: May 31, 2011 p 17)
Testimony #3 – “A. What I did do, as I purchased these, I, I immediately consigned them out to an out of town auction, a lot of them, about half of them in total and sold them again (7), making a small profit and so that perhaps half of them went for sale that way.” (Court Trans/Hatfield v Child: May 31, 2011 p 17)
Background: In 1989 Donald Robinson was a Toronto suit, working hard to wring an “exclusive worldwide” distribution deal from far west British Columbia resident Norval Morrisseau, and trying to entice him with a marketing plan that promised to aggressively boost prices for his art, which were very poor at the time. Norval had over the last few years often been selling paintings on the street for $25 to $50, just to buy booze.
Now on the stand, in 2012, Robert Dowhan was trying to point out to Judge Martial, that Robinson was a just another self-serving greedy businessman and had clear money motives for pursuing a Morrisseau price boosting strategy starting in 1991.
And that was why he was here testifying about fakes and forgers and taking the stand against one of his main Toronto business competitors. And that was also why he should not get preferential “expert witness” status in court.
Robinson, now playing it low-key, as the altruist and philanthropist in front of Judge Martial, was pulling out all the stops to distance himself from the image of the aggressive salesman and marketeer for which he is renowned in the business.
Until we heard his testimony everyone had always believed that Robinson had gotten a distribution deal at the time with Norval because he promised he could deliver an aggressive marketing strategy to get Norval’s awfully lousy prices up – big time.
I mean, isn’t that what every artist wants: an aggressive marketer, second to no other?
In court now, he is back pedaling – big time – trying to pretend that “small,” and “five to ten percent” prices increases were all he and Kinsman Robinson Galleries were ever after. Oh, and not really any price increases at all, in Toronto…
Clearly a tale of two people…
Was Robinson really such a tepid, lukewarm, and low-key marketing promoter, in front of Norval in 1989, whom he was hustling, big time, for an exclusive, worldwide marketing deal, as he was now pretending to be in front of the judge?
Would he have gotten the gig?
Robinson clearly told Norval something enticing, because in 1991, at last, Norval gave him a pared down distribution deal.
My Take: Perjury, Delusion, or Dementia?
“We weren’t interested in increasing the prices…”
“Small price increase…”
“Perhaps five to ten percent a year…”
“Gradual increase in price over a long period of time…”
We’ll let you be the judge because numerous public documents exist that can throw light on what Donald Robinson and Kinsman Robinson Galleries really consider “small” and “five” percent.
Examples of % Price Increases:
#1 KRG Price Increases in 1996: the Whent Collection
The tax court case, Canada v Whent, gives us a wonderful insight into what kind of price increases Donald Robinson believes are appropriate.
The Canada Revenue Agency was outraged at a tax credit claim that a group of Thunder Bay, ON, lawyers were making for paintings they had bought for $130,000. They had donated them to various museums and public galleries in return for a big tax credit.
The lawyers upped the ante and went for an evaluation from Donald Robinson.
He said the paintings, bought for $130,000 were really worth $1,104,795.
That’s 1.1 million dollars.
The CRA was apoplectic…
That amounts to an across the board price increase of 850% (repeat 850%) for each painting.
The judge, who adjudicated the dispute between Canada v Whent – who was brandishing Robinson’s prices – snorted at the figures the Principal Morrisseau Dealer claimed.
Justice Morgan, on the basis of his own investigation, objected strongly to the validity of Robinson’s claim to be a fair evaluator of Morrisseaus, finding that “the cornerstone of his appraisal is seriously damaged.”
Judge Morgan scathingly criticized Robinson’s methodology, by saying his valuations for a supposed “market price list,” ostensibly based on dealer prices in 1984, 1985, and 1986 was “not proven” at all.
In fact, Justice Morgan complained he could not even find the existence of even one dealer in those years, which Robinson claimed was his basis for his price list. Far from it, Justice Morgan said, that the evidence he actually did find, was totally against Robinson. “In other words, the assumption underlying Mr. Robinson’s use of the 1990 price list has not been proven.”
It’s a judge’s way of saying Robinson just made it up; he cooked the books. He was self-serving.
And of course, not in a small way. An 850% price increase is neither “small” or “from five to ten percent.”
So, exactly as Justice Morgan had complained, in 1996, far from producing a supposed arms-length price list for Judge Morgan’s Tax Court hearing, of what all the dealers in the market said Morrisseaus were worth, Robinson had in fact, fabricated a price list of what he and his gallery wanted the Morrisseaus to be worth.
Justice Morgan clearly objected to that kind of idea of Robinson’s “fair market evaluation.”
Wrote Justice Morgan: “Mr. Robinson’s close association with Morrisseau is… a liability in the sense that he has a hopeless conflict of interest in trying to be objective about the quality or value of Morrisseau’s work when he is currently the exclusive distributor for Morrisseau’s new works in Ontario.”
Justice Morgan hugely rejected Robinson’s 1.1 million dollar evaluation, cut it virtually in half, and established a fair market value, for a tax exemption at $660,000.
Down hugely from the 850% price increase, which, at that time, was Robinson’s idea of a “fair” increase.
#2 KRG Price Increase in 2007: “Untitled” Thunderbird
Kinsman Robinson Galleries listed it as sold on Nov 21, 2008.
The person who bought it might now be able to find out what percentage increase he or she paid.
But we are only speculating…
By the way, this owner might be doubly disappointed:
Kinsman Robinson Galleries had also listed the auction-bought “Thunderbird” and described it erroneously as “Acquired directly from the artist.”
In fact all Canadian fine art auction paintings are sold without – ever – disclosing the identity of the seller to the buyer. Every fine art auction, automatically, and resolutely, snips, and cuts off the provenance to the work, with the sale.
There is NO “chain of title” – as provenance – possible in 99.9% of the paintings sold by fine art auctions and galleries in Canada, the US, and Europe.
Notice how much is “made up:” note how what the Waddington’s fine art curator labelled as “Spirit Creature,” has been reborn as “Thunderbird,” the title it will carry from now on, made up not by Norval, at all, but by one of the gals at the KRG.
In Canada alone, every year, some five to six thousand fine art paintings are sold at auction, going from one anonymous seller to an anonymous buyer. And when, as winning bidder, you ask who the previous owner was, all the auctioneers refuse to tell you. So much for trying to trace the ownership of any thirty, or fifty, let alone a hundred year old painting.
So the new owner of “Thunderbird” might be equally unhappy to find out that, far from getting the painting directly from Norval, KRG had just gotten it at a yard sale, of odds and ends paintings, that Waddinton’s auctioned every month. And absolutely no one had a clue where that painting had been, or through how many hands it had passed during the last fifty years.
And that the buyer could have bought it there just as easily, without that 800% (or whatever) price markup…
There are other price markup comparisons.
#3 KRG Price Increase in 2010: Animal Unity
Kinsman Robinson Galleries was offering it for sale, again in Toronto, in their 2012 catalogue. Paul Robinson personally told us the price was “at least $350,000.”
And another thing; remember the part about not really being interested in raising Toronto prices. The painting was bought in a Toronto auction and offered by KRG in their Toronto store.
Marked up, almost overnight with a whopping price increase of 593% (repeat 593%) in Toronto…
#4 KRG Price Increase in 2010: Nature’s Balance
Kinsman Robinson Galleries was offering the exact same painting, for sale, again in Toronto, in their 2012 catalogue. Paul Robinson said Nature’s Balance was for sale for $250,000.
That’s a price increase of 555% (repeat 556%)
So what are we to make of Robinson’s purported shyness, in front of Judge Martial, claiming he was anything but a predatory pricer, and had no interest in raising Toronto prices?
Marked up, overnight with whopping price increase of 556% (repeat 556%) in Toronto…
#5 KRG Price Increase in 2011:
Some months later, in 2012, KRG was offering, the exact same painting, “Fish: Giver of Life” for sale for $22,000.
That’s a whopping price increase of 550% (repeat 550%) and again in Toronto…
And for a very small – by far the smallest of all the art discussed here – painting on paper, not acrylic on canvas.
Right are the prices realised from the auction.
Below is the painting inside Kinsman Robinson Galleries in March 2013, and the price sticker saying, the painting they bought for $4,020 is yours for $22,000.
A price increase of 550%.
#6 KRG Prices on the Wanker 31 (GLOSSARY: Wanker)
Now, based on four known KRG price increases we know what Donald Robinson considers a “small profit,” varying from between 550% to 850%. During the recession his gallery has apparently scaled down its percentage price increase, to an average of 550%,
Knowing that, we can figure out what Donald Robinson probably sold the Randy Potter paintings (the Wanker 31) for.
In 2000 he bought 31 Morrisseaus – all large acrylics on canvas – at Randy Potter for $54,000 and told Judge Martial he sold half of them off for a “small profit.”
Thanks to public records we have been able to figure out what he means by “a small profit,” information he did not share with the judge.
According to the logic demonstrated here, that would be a whopping profit of $243,000… on what he alleged were fakes, even, for goodness sakes…
Not a bad return, you will agree, even if they were genuine. But especially so, when one considers Robinson later claimed they were all fakes, and told Joan Goldi, on November 16, 2010, that he had sold them at what he called a “Buyer’s Beware” auction.
So you have to decide, in a phrase borrowed from KRG’s own blog page, “Will the Real Donald Robinson Please Stand Up?”
Is he the meek, altruist low-key seller performing in front of Judge Martial with his “small increases” of “perhaps five or ten percent,” or is he the aggressive, no-holds-barred businessman his critics say he is?
Ah, but perhaps there is a clue.
Norval Morrisseau is renowned for playing the “Dumb Indian” in the last decade of his life, never saying a peep to anyone on video or audio tape on anything in all that time. Nothing on forgeries; nothing on forgers. Nothing… zip… nada.
That maybe doesn’t matter because there were lots of white guys in suits around his wheelchair ready to speak for him.
Not entirely correct though…
For what few know is that Norval kept a diary… of paintings, of people he ran into and had dealings with.
During the very same year – 1989 – that Donald Robinson, the Toronto suit who had come out to British Columbia to try to convince Norval to give him a worldwide exclusive distribution deal, with his “tepid” or “aggressive” marketing scheme – you be the judge – Norval painted a picture of Donald Robinson, and signed and titled it on the back.
Donald Robinson, in his corporate publicity of the event, said that he and Norval had a cosmic intermingling, both having “dreamed” about each other before they met. A match made in heaven, I suppose, is how Robinson wants to portray his relationship with Norval to the Yorkville matrons who buy his art.
You know, if your dealer has a “mystical” relationship with the artist it raises selling art, a notch above, you know, selling other used stuff: cars or furniture.
But just how true was the mystical connection anyway?
So there could be no mistake in interpretation, Norval hugely titled his Diary painting “Don Robinson, Wasakajak 1989.” Though it doesn’t appear that Robinson’s mind attracted all of Norval’s artistic attention.
In Ojibway culture a Wasakajak is a folk figure loosely translated as “The Trickster.”
Did the Toronto suit, oozing sincerity, fool Norval…?
A year later Robinson was still putting on the pressure to get his “exclusive” worldwide distribution deal… Norval seemingly was in no hurry, playing hard to get.
Norval had never given an “exclusive” deal to anyone in his life before. What could Robinson possibly have promised: a tepid approach in marketing or an aggressive approach?
Clearly Robinson upped the ante.
Feeling the pressure Norval confessed to his diary again…
No glib-tongued Toronto suit was fooling Norval, not for a minute.
Some have claimed these paintings are forged… Try telling that to Canada’s top forensic experts and handwriting analysis experts.
In fact “Don Robinson, The Shark in Still Waters 1990” has been certified, by one of Canada’s top handwriting analysis experts, as authentically signed by Norval Morrisseau, with DNA certainty, and no one else could have signed it.
Once again, thank Norval for leaving his DNA behind, on all those 1970s type BDPs.
As a historian I believe Norval’s Diary paintings are his most important work. That they are also beautiful paintings is irrelevant to me.
For me, it’s all about that DNA on the back, that makes these Diary paintings priceless.
And make the 1970 BDPs priceless, hundreds, even thousands of them, for Norval signed them all, as some 70 and counting forensic findings, by three of Canada’s top handwriting experts, have proven,
The authentic voice of Norval Morrisseau’s diary writings speak from the grave, where he no longer need fear being rejected, abused, or abandoned, and gives us his true opinions of the inner circle of white guys who surrounded his wheelchair in the last dozen years of his life.
Cultural Genocide – And that’s why we consider it a high priority art heritage salvage operation, to save the Wanker 16, before the Norval Morrisseau Heritage Society burns them all to please Donald Robinson, and get rid of that compromising DNA on the backs of all these paintings, before a top forensics expert can see them…