The descendants of Paul von Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, a German Jewish banker in Berlin who liquidated his massive artwork assortment to keep away from Nazi retaliation, filed a lawsuit on 13 December in opposition to the current proprietor of a well-known Vincent van Gogh portray as soon as in his possession. The plaintiffs declare that Sompo Holdings, a Japan-based insurance coverage holding firm, was absolutely conscious that the portray, Sunflowers (1888), was a “casualty of Nazi insurance policies” and moved ahead with its acquisition regardless of the historic context of its prior sale.
Mendelssohn-Bartholdy’s descendants—Julius H. Schoeps, Britt-Marie Enhoerning and Florence Von Kesselstatt—allege that Sompo Holdings was “recklessly detached” to the portray’s previous, a declare Sho Tanka, a spokesperson for Sompo, disputed in feedback to Courthouse Information.
“Sompo categorically rejects any allegation of wrongdoing and intends to vigorously defend its possession rights in Sunflowers,” Tanka mentioned, including that Sompo’s predecessor, Yasuda Hearth & Marine Insurance coverage Firm, procured the Van Gogh from a public public sale at Christie’s London in 1987. “For over 35 years, the Sompo Museum of Advantageous Artwork in Tokyo, Japan has proudly displayed Sunflowers.”
Mendelssohn-Bartholdy initially offered Sunflowers and different items from his assortment in 1934, fearing that Nazi encroachment on Jewish enterprise leaders would make him a goal. He died the next 12 months. His heirs’ 98-page criticism states that he “by no means meant to switch any of his work and that he was pressured to switch them solely due to threats and financial pressures by the Nazi authorities”.
Yasuda Hearth & Marine bought the portray for $39.9m (together with charges) in 1987—setting a brand new file on the time for the most costly paintings offered at public sale—and finally positioned it on everlasting show in Sompo’s Tokyo museum.
Whereas the heirs acknowledge that Sompo Holdings didn’t “purposefully” exploit the circumstances of the portray’s sale in 1934, they assert that Sunflowers’s painful provenance was “ignored”.
The plaintiffs reside in Germany and New York state, however filed their lawsuit in federal court docket in Chicago because of Sompo’s enterprise dealings there. They’re asking the court docket for return of the portray or, barring that, $750m in punitive damages.