DIA argues Van Gogh painting at center of lawsuit is 'immune from seizure'

Posted at 1:50 PM, Jan 17, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-17 13:50:00-05

(WXYZ) — The Detroit Institute of Arts is arguing that the Van Gogh painting at the center of an ongoing lawsuit is "immune from seizure" under the Immunity from Seizure Act.

According to the court filing from Monday, lawyers for the institution said the DIA applied to the State Department for immunity under the Immunity from Seizure Act for 27 works of art, the exhibition painting included, stating that the application was granted.

"The DIA notes that prior to submitting its application for immunity to the State Department, the DIA received confirmation from the Art Loss Register that the Painting was not registered as stolen or missing," the court filing says.

Read the document below:

The next court hearing is set for Jan. 19 at 10 a.m.

Last week, a federal judge blocked the Detroit Institute of Arts from moving or hiding the painting called "Liseuse de Romans" or "The Novel Reader."

The order states the DIA is prohibited "from damaging, destroying, concealing, disposing, moving, or using as to substantially impair its value."

A Brazilian art collector, Gustavo Soter, claims he bought the piece six years ago for $3.7 million. At that time, he said he gave possession of the painting to a third party but not title.

He said that third party took off with the painting immediately. After six years of searching for it, the Brazilian art collector saw a photo of it on social media and learned the piece is on display at the DIA.

Now, the art collector is suing the DIA.

Wayne State University Fine Arts professor emeritus Jeffrey Abt told 7 Action News this type of ordeal isn't unheard of.

"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... discover that they are in a museum," Abt explained.

The Detroit Institute of Arts issued a statement to 7 Action News last Tuesday, which read in part:

“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."

7 Action News reached out to Varnum Law in Grand Rapids, which is representing Soter, the Brazilian art collector. As of Tuesday, the firm has not responded.