Sompo sued to return iconic Van Gogh painting

Heirs of former owner allege artwork was forcibly sold by Nazis

Sompo sued to return iconic Van Gogh painting

Insurance News

By Gabriel Olano

The heirs of a former owner of one of Vincent Van Gogh’s Sunflowers paintings has sued current owner Sompo Holdings to return the artwork, claiming that it was forcibly sold as part of Nazi atrocities in Germany.

In a suit filed at a US federal court in Illinois, the former owner’s heirs said that the Nazi government forced their Jewish ancestor to sell the Sunflowers (F457) painting in 1934, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported. In 1987, the painting was purchased by Yasuda Fire & Marine Insurance, one of the predecessors of Sompo Holdings.

The complainants demanded the return of the painting and US$750 million in damages. They alleged that Yasuda Fire & Marine Insurance disregarded the painting's ownership history, and “unjustifiably gained commercial profits and other benefits” from the art.

Sompo Holdings said that it had not yet received the complaint, and that it is willing to defend its ownership of the painting. The insurer countered that it purchased the painting at a public auction and that it has exhibited the painting for more than 35 years.

The painting was auctioned off in London in 1987 for US$39.9 million (or around ¥5.8 billion at the time). This set a record for the most expensive painting, which has since been broken multiple times. Sunflowers (F457) is currently displayed at the Sompo Museum of Art in Shinjuku, Tokyo.

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