Court orders Detroit museum to hold onto disputed van Gogh

A federal appeals court has ordered a Detroit museum to hold onto an 1888 painting by Vincent van Gogh amid a Brazilian collector’s dispute with the museum over the painting

ByThe Associated Press
January 26, 2023, 12:29 PM

DETROIT -- A federal appeals court has ordered a Detroit museum to hold onto an 1888 painting by Vincent van Gogh amid a Brazilian collector's dispute with the museum over the painting.

Wednesday's order from the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati comes days after U.S. District Judge George Caram Steeh in Detroit dismissed a lawsuit filed by collector Gustavo Soter’s art brokerage company, The Detroit News reported.

The suit claims 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 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 United States.

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, LLC, “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 fully comply with the order from the U.S. Court of Appeals regarding the custody of ‘The Novel Reader’ and will be responding on January 30 to the plaintiff’s recent pleading.”

She said the museum would have “no additional comment prior to a ruling by the court.”

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. 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.

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