The Detroit Institute of Arts is in a legal fight with the alleged owner of a van Gogh painting on display there.
The painting, titled “The Novel Reader” or “The Reading Lady,” depending on which art history book you read, is not one of Vincent van Gogh’s better known works. It’s a woman painted in cool tones against a warm yellow backdrop, sitting on the ladder of a library reading a yellow book. It has the look of a sketch that the artist just happened to decide to commit to oils.
The Detroit Institute of Arts is currently in possession of the painting as part of an exhibition of lesser-known van Gogh paintings, one of over 80 works. According to them, it’s on loan from a private collection in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
But not the collection of Gustavo Soter, the man who claims to be the owner of the painting and has filed suit against the DIA for its return.
According to Soter, he purchased “The Reading Lady” in 2017 for $3.7 million, but a “third party” took possession of the art before it reached him. He hasn’t known where it was for the intervening years, until he learned that it was on display in Detroit.
On Wednesday, a district court judge ordered that the Detroit Institute of Arts retain the painting while an investigation is underway. A court hearing is scheduled for January 19, 2023.
Whether or not the museum is liable to either party, either Soter or the collector in Sao Paulo, will be determined at the hearing. The painting is valued at over $5 million, according to the lawsuit.
“The loan was accepted in accordance with best museum practices and is subject to the protections of applicable federal law through registration with the U.S. Department of State,” the museum said in a statement.
Photo: The Detroit Institute of Arts. Credit: EQRoy / Shutterstock.com