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Brazilian art collector, Detroit Institute of Art file suits over Van Gogh painting

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(DETROIT) — A Brazilian art collector has asked a federal judge to order the Detroit Institute of Arts to hand over Vincent van Gogh’s “The Novel Reader,” alleging that the painting was stolen, according to court documents.

Gustavo Soter of Brazil said he “paid $3.7 million for the painting and would like it back,” lawyers for Soter’s art brokerage company, Brokerarte Capital Partners, wrote in court documents filed Wednesday.

BCP filed a lawsuit against the DIA in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.

The brokerage company said it purchased the painting in 2017 and transferred the artwork, but not the title, to a third party. The third party “absconded” with the painting and BCP has been unable to locate it for years, earlier court documents show.

DIA said it applied for immunity under the Federal Immunity from Seizure Act for 27 pieces of art being shown in the exhibition, including the Van Gogh painting in dispute. The U.S. State Department granted immunity for the DIA’s entire submission in July, according to court filings.

The DIA also claimed that it received a confirmation from the Art Loss Register that the painting was not registered as stolen or missing before it submitted the application to the State Department. In a court filing, the DIA claimed Soter’s request would violate the Federal Immunity from Seizure Act.

The painting was a loan to the DIA from a “foreign lender,” according to court documents.

The painting is part of an exhibition that ends on Jan. 22. BCP asked the court to take action before then, alleging the painting will no longer be in the possession of the DIA after that date and BCP will lose its chance to recover the painting.

The DIA has asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit, alleging U.S. cultural institutions like itself will suffer substantial harm if the court orders it to hand over the painting to BCP.

In a subsequent filing, BCP claimed the Immunity from Seizure Act does not apply in this case because the DIA did not enter into an agreement with the foreign owner of the painting.

DIA told ABC News in a statement: “The Detroit Institute of Arts explained its position on the pending dispute between two private parties in the pleadings filed by the DIA’s counsel last week. The museum’s focus during these final days of the internationally celebrated Van Gogh in America exhibition is on welcoming guests from Macomb, Oakland, and Wayne Counties, around the State of Michigan, the United States, and the world.”

Lawyers for BCP did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment.

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