Detroit Institute of Arts ordered to keep Van Gogh painting as lawsuit over its ownership heads to appeals court

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The Brazilian collector who claims he is the rightful owner of Une liseuse de romans (The Novel Reader, 1888), a Vincent van Gogh painting that was recently on public display at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) as part of a major exhibition about the Dutch artist, is appealing a judge’s dismissal of his case against the museum. As a result, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the museum to retain possession of the painting.

According to the lawsuit filed earlier this month by his Miami-based company Brokerarte Capital Partners, the Brazilian collector Gustavo Soter purchased the painting for $3.7m in 2017 from Torrealba Holdings, a company owned by Goncalo Borges Torrealba, a Brazilian man known for his investments in thoroughbred horses.

Soter subsequently transferred the painting to an unnamed third party, while retaining title to it. “This party absconded with the painting, and Plaintiff has been unaware of its whereabouts for years,” a lawyer for Soter wrote in the original complaint. Soter’s representatives estimate the painting is now worth more than $5m.

The painting had been on view at the DIA since 2 October 2022 as part of the museum’s blockbuster exhibition Van Gogh in America but, following its closure on 22 January, was due to be returned to the lender, an unspecified private collection in São Paulo according to the wall label.

A district judge had previously granted an order preventing the DIA from moving the painting, but the case was subsequently dismissed by the US District Judge George Caram Steeh, who said that the museum was “blameless in this case” and urged the parties to resolve the matter outside of court.

The museum is now required to hold onto the painting until further notice from the appeals court.

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