Judge dismisses lawsuit against Michigan museum over van Gogh painting

DETROIT, MI — A judge dismissed a lawsuit involving a $5 million Van Gogh painting on display at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

The lawsuit, filed by a Brazilian art collector, alleged that the painting “The Novel Reader” had been stolen and that the DIA should hand it over to him.

The painting was loaned to the DIA for the much celebrated Van Gogh in America exhibition now showing 74 van Gogh works until 22 January.

According to the museum, “The Novel Reader” was not listed as stolen or missing on the Art Loss Register, the largest private database of stolen art, and was not on the FBI’s National Stolen Art File when it arranged the loan. in early 2022.

In an opinion released on Friday, Jan. 20, Judge George Caram Steeh ruled in favor of the museum, saying it followed the rules of the federal Immunity from Seizure Act.

The act is intended to “assist and encourage cultural exchange” with other countries and, as such, “makes certain objects of cultural significance imported into the United States for temporary display or display immune from seizure in the judicial process. . . . ”

Steeh determined that the DIA was properly applied through the State Department and received approval.

“Here, the lender was in possession of the painting and the defendant engaged in due diligence to determine that the painting had not been reported lost or stolen,” Steeh wrote.

He noted that the Immunity from Seizure Act “does not protect the owner of the item as it encourages the display in the United States of items of cultural significance from abroad.”

The Brazilian art collector said he bought ‘The Novel Reader’ in 2017 for $3.7 million and estimates it is now worth $5 million. His lawyers, in a lawsuit filed earlier this month, said a third party “escaped with the painting and the plaintiff hasn’t known about it for years.”

When the collector acquired the painting, he immediately transferred ownership to an anonymous third party for conservation in Brazil. At some point, the collector lost contact with the third person.

The collector only recently learned that the painting was on display at the Van Gogh in America exhibition.

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