detroit — The Detroit Institute of Arts cannot be forced to cede control of a multimillion-dollar Vincent van Gogh painting at the center of a federal lawsuit because the artwork is protected by a federal law that grants immunity to foreign artworks that are exhibited in the United States. museum lawyers said Monday.

The painting, “Liseuse De Romans,” was granted immunity last summer by the US State Department under a nearly 60-year-old law governing foreign art and other culturally significant items imported into the US. ., the lawyers wrote.

The argument is the latest development in the case of the Van Gogh painting, which a Brazilian art collector says disappeared from his collection for six years until it was recently found hanging on a wall at the Detroit museum as part of the ongoing exhibition. “Van Gogh in America exhibition”.

Read more: A Missing Van Gogh: An International Art Hunt and Lawsuit Leading to DIA

Visitors parade past Van Gogh's painting

The filing adds new international intrigue to a case that drew worldwide attention, and a security guard, to the museum last week after collector Gustavo Soter sued the DIA in federal court to recover “Liseuse De Romans,” also known as “The Novel Reader”. or “The reading lady”. The painting is worth more than 5 million dollars.

The lawsuit by Soter’s art brokerage firm, Brokerarte Capital Partners LLC, outlines an international search for a rare oil painting by the Dutch Post-Impressionist master and a desperate attempt to recover the artwork before the exhibit leaves the house. city ​​on Sunday.

Monday’s court filing leaves one mystery intact: The DIA did not identify who lent the painting to the museum. An attachment simply says that it is on loan from a private collection in São Paulo, Brazil.

A federal judge blocked DIA officials from moving or hiding the painting before a court hearing Thursday. US District Judge George Caram Steeh’s order prevents DIA officials from “damaging, destroying, concealing, disposing of, moving” or substantially impairing the value of the painting.

The DIA exhibit opened in October and celebrates DIA's status as the first public museum in the United States to purchase a Van Gogh painting, a self-portrait created in 1887.

“Continuing this lawsuit would threaten the ability of US art museums to mount world-renowned exhibitions, like Van Gogh’s in the United States, which would likely dampen the willingness of foreign lenders to lend art to US institutions,” DIA attorney Andrew Pauwels wrote. .

“Like other US art museums, DIA relies on loans from collectors, galleries and museums around the world to provide the visiting public with meaningful cultural and educational experiences,” Pauwels added. “These exchanges greatly benefit society.”

Soter says he purchased the painting for $3.7 million in 2017. After paying for the artwork, he transferred possession, but not title, to an unnamed third party, the lawsuit alleges.

“This party absconded with the painting and Plaintiff has not known its whereabouts for years,” wrote Brokerarte’s attorney, Aaron Phelps. “Since Plaintiff purchased the painting in May 2017, Plaintiff does not know the location of the painting.”

So, a breakthrough.

“Recently, however, the plaintiff learned that the painting is in the possession of the DIA, on display as part of the museum’s ‘Van Gogh in America’ exhibition,” the lawyer wrote.

The DIA, in an emailed statement last week, said the museum follows best practices before accepting international loans, including property screening from academic sources, the Art Loss Registry, and the US Federal Register. USA

The DIA petitioned the State Department for immunity in May. The request listed 27 works of art, including “Liseuse De Romans,” according to Monday’s court filing.

“Incidentally, the DIA notes that prior to submitting its immunity request to the Department of State, the DIA received confirmation from the Art Loss Registry that the painting was not registered as stolen or missing,” the attorney for the DIA wrote. DAY. “The DIA has also confirmed that the painting is not listed in the FBI’s National Archive of Stolen Art.”

Painting has played an increasingly popular role in the sold-out DIA exhibition this past weekend.

The exhibition opened in October and celebrates DIA’s status as the first public museum in the United States to purchase a Van Gogh painting, a self-portrait created in 1887.

The exhibition, which runs through Sunday, includes 74 Van Gogh paintings and is considered one of the largest Van Gogh works in the United States in the 21st century. Authentic Van Gogh pieces are on loan from approximately 60 museums and collections around the world, including “The Bedroom” from the Art Institute of Chicago; “Van Gogh’s Chair” from the National Gallery in London; and “Starry Night (Starry Night Over the Rhone)” from the Musee d’Orsay in Paris.

“The DIA and other U.S. cultural institutions would suffer substantial harm if the court violated the Seizure Immunity Act and ordered the DIA to surrender possession of the painting to Plaintiff, or even if the court upheld the Pending Order of Hearing”. wrote the lawyer for the DIA. “This damage would impact not only museums but the whole of society.”

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