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Japan's Sompo faces $750m lawsuit over Van Gogh's 'Sunflowers'

Heirs of former owner argue insurer ignored Nazi role in painting's history

Visitors admire three paintings by Vincent Van Gogh on display at Tokyo's Sompo Museum of Art in 2003.    © AP

NEW YORK -- Japanese insurer Sompo Holdings has been sued over a painting from Vincent Van Gogh's famed "Sunflowers" series by the heirs of a former owner, a victim of Nazi persecution forced to sell the work under duress.

The lawsuit was filed Dec. 13 in an Illinois federal court by three heirs and descendants of Paul von Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, a Jewish banker and art collector in Berlin. It seeks the return of "Sunflowers" or payment of the fair market value, in addition to $750 million in punitive damages, in light of the profit Sompo has earned from its ownership of the painting, including the benefits to its brand and marketing.

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