US judge orders museum not to move Van Gogh painting caught in row

A US judge has ordered a museum to keep hold of a Vincent Van Gogh painting after a collector filed a lawsuit alleging the work had been stolen from him.

"The Novel Reader," also known as "The Reading Lady," is on display at the Detroit Institute of Arts until January 22 as part of an exhibition of the impressionist painter.

Brazilian Gustavo Soter said in a complaint filed Tuesday in a Michigan court that he acquired the painting in 2017 for $3.7 million.

He immediately transferred possession -- but not ownership of the 1888 painting -- to a third party, according the lawsuit.

"This party absconded with the painting, and plaintiff has been unaware of its whereabouts for years," says the complaint, which now values the work at $5 million.

Soter learned recently that the painting was in the possession of the museum in Detroit, apparently on loan from a private collection.

Fearing that the institute would return the painting to the third party at the end of the exhibit, Soter's lawsuit seeks the art be turned over to him.

On Wednesday, judge George Caram Steeh barred the institute from "damaging, destroying, concealing, disposing, (or) moving" the painting.

The ruling was a temporary move ahead of a court hearing on the matter on January 19.

The museum, which isn't accused of wrongdoing, did not immediately reply to a request for comment from AFP.

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