A Renoir painting stolen from the Baltimore Museum of Art in 1951 and bought at a West Virginia flea market in 2009 must be returned to the museum, a judge has ordered. Marcia “Martha” Fuqua paid $7 for Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s “Paysage Bords de Seine” or “On the Shore of the Seine,” painted in 1879 on a linen napkin, which has been valued at up to $100,000. Fuqua said she did not know it was a Renoir and stored it in a garbage bag for two and a half years. Judge Leonie Brinkema dismissed Fuqua’s claim of ownership, and said the painting must be returned to the museum. The judge noted that a property title cannot be transferred if it resulted from a robbery.
The painting resurfaced in 2012, when an auction company announced plans to sell it on behalf of Fuqua, dubbed “Renoir girl,” who said she did not know the painting was a Renoir when she bought it, even though it was held in a frame with a “RENOIR” panel attached. The auction company had expected to get at least $75,000, but the auction was canceled when the Baltimore Museum of Art came forward with records showing the painting had been stolen in 1951.
An appraiser estimates the painting’s value today at $22,000, much lower than the auction house believed. This is in part, the appraiser says, because Renoir’s paintings have fallen out of favor with some art collectors and also because questions about the painting’s ownership and theft diminish its value.
The painting’s journey began when it was purchased by the Paris art gallery Bernheim-Jeune. Then in 1926, Herbert L. May, a Renoir collector, bought it from the Paris gallery. In 1937, May’s ex-wife, Saidie May, loaned the painting to the Baltimore Museum of Art, which reported it stolen in 1951. Anne Mannix-Brown, spokeswoman for the museum, said she hopes to have a special unveiling of the painting by the end of March. For more on the “stolen” Renoir, click here.