Jewish Family Is Suing Japanese Company Over Van Gogh Painting

Jewish Family Is Suing a Japanese Company Over Its Prized Van Gogh Painting, Which They Say Was Sold Under Threat of Nazis.

Jan 14, 2023By Angela Davic, News, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and Analysis
Jewish Family
©Loving Vincent


Jewish Family is suing a Tokyo-based insurance company. The mentioned Jewish Family represents heirs and descendants of the Berlin-based banker Paul von Mendelssohn-Bartholdy. Overall, the banker sold his extensive art collection in the mid-1930s. This happened in the face of the growing Nazi threat.


Jewish Family Files Suit in Chicago and Wants Its Possession Back

Jewish Family
Photo of a man taking a photo of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers


Bartholdy’s heirs filed suit in federal court in Chicago to reclaim possession of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers (1888) painting. Also, to collect damages from the current owner. The current owner of the painting is Sompo Holdings Inc. The plaintiffs are Julius H. Schoeps, Britt-Marie Enhoerning, and Florence Von Kesselstatt.


Even though the company now has a different name, at that time it was the Yasuda Fire & Marine Insurance Company. Evidently, the company legally acquired the painting in 1987, at Christie’s London. Christie’s sold the painting for £25 million ($40 million), a then-record price. Nevertheless, the plaintiffs presently assert that when buying the artwork, the firm ignored its historical context.


sunflowers van gogh
Sunflowers by Vincent van Gogh, 1888, via The National Gallery, London


The heirs filed the complaint on December 13, 2022 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. They said that “Yasuda recklessly—if not purposefully—ignored the provenance of Sunflowers that Christie’s published. The famous Jewish Berlin banker and prominent Nazi victim Paul von Mendelssohn-Bartholdy sold the painting in Berlin in 1934.”

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The complaint continues: “at a time when notorious Nazi policies were targeting and dispossessing elite Jewish bankers. This also includes Mendelssohn-Bartholdy and wreaking havoc upon Germany’s Jewish population.”


Either Return or a $750 Million Compensation

Jewish Family
The entrance to the Sompo Museum of Art in Tokyo. Courtesy of the Sompo Museum of Art.


The Yasuda Museum of Art to the Van Gogh Museum discussed a Sunflower loan for a future display. “We are deeply concerned about our [Van] Gogh and Gauguin provenance”, an administrator from the Japanese company’s museum wrote in the message. “We think our two works have nothing to do with Nazi-looted art, but we are not 100% sure.”


The heirs are asking to have ownership of the painting transferred to them. But, If that’s not possible, they demand a $750 million damage award instead. They said this amount is equal to the artwork’s present-day market value. But, “Sompo categorically rejects any allegation of wrongdoing and intends to vigorously defend its ownership rights in Sunflowers.”


“It is a matter of public record that Yasuda Fire & Marine Insurance Company purchased the Vincent Van Gogh Sunflowers work at public auction from Christie’s in London in 1987″, the company employee added.

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By Angela DavicNews, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and AnalysisAngela is a journalism student at the Faculty of Political Science in Belgrade and received a scholarship for continued education in Prague. She completed her internship at the daily newspaper DANAS and worked as an executive editor at Talas.