HomeNovelVan Gogh’s painting “The Novel Reader” at the DIA exhibition was stolen
Van Gogh’s painting “The Novel Reader” at the DIA exhibition was stolen
January 11, 2023
As the Detroit Institute of Arts’ blockbuster “Van Gogh in America” exhibit nears its January 22 closing date, a lawsuit filed Tuesday alleges a stolen painting is on display at the museum as part of the exhibit.
The lawsuit filed in federal court in Detroit claims that Brazilian art collector Gustavo Soter bought “Une Liseuse De Romans” – also known as “The Novel Reader” – for $3.7 million in 2017, and Soter estimates that its value now exceeds $5 million.
“The plaintiff purchased the painting in 2017 and immediately transferred possession – but not title – to a third party,” the lawsuit reads. “This party escaped with the painting and the plaintiff has not been aware of it for years. Recently, however, the plaintiff learned that the painting was in the possession of the DIA, apparently on loan from a private collection. Since the Plaintiff maintains a good title to the painting and all true ownership interests in the painting, he now initiates this diversity action to recover possession of his property of him.
The 1888 painting, done in oil on canvas, depicts a young woman reading a yellow book in front of the yellowed background of a library. The DIA exhibit identifies the piece as being on loan from a private collection in São Paulo, Brazil.
The lawsuit says “immediate action is urgently needed” and calls for the work to be returned to Soter before the end of the exhibition so it does not revert to the unnamed party who loaned it to the museum.
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“This exhibition is expected to end on January 22, 2023. At that time, the painting will be moved or transferred to a third party, depriving the plaintiff of the opportunity to recover his rightful property,” the lawsuit argues, asking the court to grant the plaintiff “immediate possession of the painting or a judgment as to the painting’s value”.
Museum officials said on Tuesday evening they had no knowledge of the lawsuit and had not yet been notified. The DIA later released the following statement:
“The Detroit Institute of Arts, like all AAM-accredited museums, regularly enters into loan agreements with other national and international museums and collections. Before accepting international loans to DIA, the museum follows best practices. This includes researching the property from academic sources, the Art Loss Register and, where applicable, the US Federal Register.”
It was unclear on Wednesday which institution or collector lent the piece to the DIA.
“Van Gogh in America” opened October 2 as a historic gathering of 74 works by Dutch post-impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh with the approval of the artist’s descendants and the official Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.
The pieces are borrowed from more than 50 sources worldwide; the exhibit is a DIA exclusive and will travel nowhere else when it closes in Detroit. Since its opening, it has attracted more than 100,000 visitors from all 50 states and many foreign countries.
Contact Duante Beddingfield, Free Press arts and culture journalist, at [email protected]