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Judge rules ‘sooner than later’ in Van Gogh painting case

Judge rules ‘sooner than later’ in Van Gogh painting case

DETROIT (WXYZ) – A dispute over a Van Gogh painting at the center of an ownership debate made its debut in federal court today. The judge did not decide. However, he added that unless an agreement is reached, he will issue a written opinion “as soon as possible”.

Outside of DIA, 7 Action News spoke with Cassandra Butler, students and parents of her homeschool.

He said, “When I saw (the painting) I said, ‘That’s the picture.'”

“Our students are studying about Van Gogh. So, it was nice for them to actually come down and actually see,” Butler explained.

Parent Bree Martin said, “I really enjoyed his sketch work a lot. Just to see the details, the shading and the shading.

During their tour of the museum a few miles away, DIA lawyers and those representing a Brazilian art collector faced off in federal court.

Art collector, Gustavo Soter, claims to own Van Gogh’s painting, The Novel Reader. Cameras are not allowed in federal court, but 7 Action News attended the hearing.

His attorney Aaron Phelps said Souter bought the painting in May 2017 for $3.7 million.

He said a third party agreed to store the painting for Souter and there has been periodic communication through 2019-2020.

The attorney said Souter became concerned in 2020 when the third party ceased all communication.

Plaintiffs demand that the DIA identify who loaned the painting to the museum and produce the loan agreement.

Phelps said he received a call yesterday from an attorney in New York who claims to represent the “ultimate beneficial owners.” However, he said that no further details were given.

DIA’s attorney, Andrew Powles, told the judge that the plaintiffs never reported the art lost or stolen to the Art Loss Register, the FBI, nor the State Department. He asked the judge to dismiss the case.

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But here’s the point of contention: The DIA said it followed State Department statute to obtain the artifact, and the State Department’s approval freed the DIA from lawsuits.

Counsel for the plaintiff says that this does not apply.

Judge George Carm Steeh said, “The interpretation of the statute is kind of open, because there is very little case law addressing these issues.”

The judge continues, “I will address a consequence that will happen sooner rather than later.”

Outside the DIA, museum visitor Maurice Butler said, “It will certainly be interesting to see what the outcome is.”

DIA released this statement today:

The Detroit Institute of Arts clarified its position on the pending dispute between the two private parties in pleadings filed by DIA’s counsel last week. DIA has no further comment while the court is considering the matter.

The museum’s focus during these internationally celebrated Van Gogh’s Last Days in America exhibition is on welcoming guests from Macomb, Oakland and Wayne Counties to the state of Michigan, the United States, and around the world.

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