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Court hearing scheduled today in Van Gogh 'The Novel Reader' painting lawsuit

Posted at 9:15 AM, Jan 19, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-19 09:15:41-05

(WXYZ) — The custody battle over a famous painting on display at the Detroit Institute of Arts is heading to the courtroom this morning.

The clock is ticking for the art collector, who claims to own it, to get it back.

The painting by Vincent Van Gogh is known as "The Novel Reader." It's been a part of the DIA's Van Gogh in America Exhibit since October.

But last week, a Brazilian art collector filed a lawsuit against the DIA, claiming he's been searching for the piece for years. This morning, a judge will consider ordering the DIA to hand over the painting. Timing is crucial. The exhibit ends this Sunday and the collector fears the painting could disappear once again.

Drama from this — depending on how you look at it, isn’t all bad for the DIA. It's making the Van Gogh exhibit all that more popular, especially this particular painting.

"That's wild for one. I'm wondering how it was able to get stolen, if it was that important," said Ramon Lockett, an art lover.

"The Novel Reader" is fetching big crowds not just for its artistry, but for the lawsuit it's embroiled in.

Today at 10 a.m., a judge could decide whether or not to require the museum to hand over the painting to the Brazilian art collector, who through his attorney, claims he bought the piece six years ago for $3.7 million.

This now public battle is sparking curiosity from art lovers like Frank Seymour.

"It'd be great to see it and what the controversy is. And recognized so much news about recently," said Frank.

In a new filing Wednesday, attorneys for the collector ask the court to reject the DIA's request for dismissal, based on an act — the Immunity from Seizure Act — that they claim is irrelevant, because the rightful and uncontested owner of the work, is their client, not the DIA.

The collector, a man named Gustavo Soter, reportedly gave possession, but not the title of the painting, to a third party. He claims the third party took off with the work, then Soter saw a photo of it on social media, learning it was at the DIA.

The museum telling Action News via a statement that it regularly enters into loan agreements, and before doing so, follows best practices including research of ownership.

“The Detroit Institute of Arts, like all AAM-accredited museums, regularly enters into loan agreements with other national and international museums and collections. Before agreeing to international loans to the DIA, the museum follows best practices. This includes the research of ownership from scholarly sources, the Art Loss Register, and, where applicable, the US Federal Register."

"These things happen, and they've been happening more frequently in recent years as people who are disputing works of art discover that they are in a museum sometimes temporarily, sometimes as part of a loan exhibition as is the case here," said Jeffrey Abt, Wayne State University Professor Emeritus.