Art collector claims Van Gogh painting at DIA is stolen; court deciding what happens to painting

A Brazilian art collector claims a painting in the Detroit Institute Van Gogh exhibit is his and was stolen.

The art collector says he had no idea where the painting was until it ended up at the museum. Now, the court is deciding what will happen to the artwork.

"I’ve litigated many cases involving disputes over artwork and the court is very competent and capable of handling this dispute which essentially is an argument over who owns a painting," said attorney Jonathan Schwartz.

Schwartz, who is the head of the Holocaust Art Recovery Initiative, is not involved in the case but believes it will be a precedent-setting case. 

During Thursday’s hearing the judge made it clear that there is not much case law to address this issue, but he did say he felt the DIA was blameless. Schwartz agrees.

"The DIA is caught in the middle. The DIA is a great institution," he said.

It was noted during the hearing that the DIA is not revealing who owns or loaned this painting.

"Often times there are agreements about privacy and not disclosing ownership. That’s fairly routine and doesn’t concern me here, but it may be a fact that the court takes into consideration," Schwartz said. "It’s a very important opportunity to develop some case law on an important federal statute."

The DIA released a statement, which reads in part: "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 DIA has no further comment while the court considers the matter."