Court Tells Museum to Keep Disputed van Gogh for Now

Brazilian collector says he bought the painting in 2017
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jan 26, 2023 5:50 PM CST
Detroit Museum Ordered to Keep Disputed van Gogh for Now
Visitors file past the van Gogh painting "Une Liseuse De Romans," also known as "The Novel Reader," during the "Van Gogh in America exhibit at the Detroit Institute of Arts on Jan. 11.   (Andy Morrison/Detroit News via AP, File)

A federal appeals court has ordered a Detroit museum to hold on to an 1888 painting by Vincent van Gogh amid a Brazilian collector's dispute with the museum over ownership of the painting. Wednesday's order from the 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati comes days after US District Judge George Caram Steeh in Detroit dismissed a lawsuit filed by collector Gustavo Soter's art brokerage company. The suit claims that Soter bought the painting of a woman with a book, titled The Novel Reader, in 2017 for $3.7 million, but that a third party took possession of the artwork and it has been missing for nearly six years, the AP reports.

The oil-on-canvas painting, which the suit says is worth more than $5 million, was part of the Detroit Institute of Arts' recent "Van Gogh in America" exhibition. Steeh said in his Jan. 20 ruling that the painting could not be seized because it was protected by a federal law granting immunity to foreign artwork on display in the US. The appeals court judges ordered the museum to retain possession of the painting, saying that an appeal filed by Soter's brokerage firm, Brokerarte Capital Partners, "raises issues in its motion that deserve full pleading and reasoned consideration." Brokerarte lawyer Aaron Phelps declined to comment Thursday.

Detroit Institute of Arts spokesperson Megan Hawthorne said in an email that the museum will comply with the order. Attorneys for Soter filed their lawsuit in early January, seeking a court order directing the museum to surrender the painting. The monthslong van Gogh exhibition ended Sunday at the Detroit Institute of Arts, per the Detroit News. Dozens of paintings by the Dutch master are on loan to the museum. The museum hasn't publicly disclosed how it obtained the painting for the show, saying only that it came from Brazil. The painting was not listed as stolen by the FBI or the international Art Loss Register, the museum said.

(More Vincent Van Gogh stories.)

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