The dispute over Vincent van Gogh’s Liseuse de romans (The Novel Reader, 1888) has been resolved out of court by the parties who had been claiming rightful ownership of the work. The loser in the case may be the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), which an appeals court ordered in January to hold onto the painting pending the resolution of the ownership dispute—it had been loaned to the museum for its blockbuster Van Gogh in America exhibition, which closed on 22 January.
A spokesperson for the museum told the Associated Press that it had spent upwards of $100,000 on its legal defence in the case. It is also petitioning the appeals court to deem its late January injunction “null and void” so that it cannot be cited as a precedent in future disputes. The federal Immunity from Judicial Seizure Statute, which governs international art loans to US museums, stipulates that “no court of the United States [...] may issue or enforce any judicial process” to impact the “custody or control” of an artwork loaned to a US museum. The statute is seen as crucial to securing loans of works that might be the subject of legal disputes or restitution claims.
Brokerarte Capital Partners, the Miami-based art brokerage of Brazilian collector Gustavo Soter, had purchased The Novel Reader in 2017 for $3.7m from Torrealba Holdings, a company owned by Brazilian thoroughbred horse collector Goncalo Borges Torrealba. Brokerarte then loaned the painting to an unnamed third party, who “absconded” with it, as Soter’s original complaint stated. He had lost track of the painting until it was put on public display at the DIA in Van Gogh in America last autumn, leading to his lawsuit in January. The work’s wall label only identified the lender as a private collection in São Paulo.
“Consistent with the confidential settlement, Brokerarte no longer seeks injunctive relief, and therefore, this appeal is moot,” lawyers for Soter wrote in a court filing on 13 March.
The identity of the mysterious absconding party, and the ultimate fate of The Novel Reader, are unknown. Lawyers for Soter have not responded to a request for comment.