Baltimore Museum of Art Claims Flea Market Renoir

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The Baltimore Museum of Art has asked federal Judge Leonie M. Brinkema, in a 154-page motion, to dismiss the claims of a woman from Virginia who says she bought the small Pierre-Auguste Renoir landscape painting “Paysage Bords de Seine” (1879) from a flea market for $7, the Baltimore Sun reports. The BMA’s motion for summary judgment in the case, which began when Marcia Fuqua announced in 2012 that she had found the work three years earlier at the Harpers Ferry Flea Market but only had it appraised subsequently at her mother’s urging, includes a 1935 letter from Baltimore-based collector Saidie A. May to the BMA’s director at the time Roland McKinney announcing her intention to loan the very same work to her hometown museum. She would later bequeath her entire collection to the BMA.

In her letter, May wrote: “The Modern Art Museum will be sending you very soon some small paintings of mine which I am willing to loan the Museum indefinitely if you insure them!!”

Among the works listed is Renoir’s “Au Bord de la Seine,” apparently valued at $1,010 at the time. Virginia-based auction house the Potomack Company valued the work at $75,000-100,000 in 2012 and was planning to sell it until, the day before the auction, the BMA furnished files showing that the work in question had been stolen from one its galleries sometime in the evening of November 16, 1951, and the museum’s reopening the following morning.

“Notwithstanding the ‘Renoir’ plate on the frame of the painting and the paper on the back indicating that it was by Renoir and entitled ‘Paysage Bords de Seine,’ Fuqua did not realize that the painting was an original Renoir at the time of her purchase or in the following years,” the motion explains. “Even if she did purchase the painting at a flea market without knowledge of its authorship and/or title, her claim must still fail as a matter of law because the painting was stolen from the BMA.”

Further documentation shows that the BMA hung the work in its halls at least twice — first in 1950 for an exhibition showcasing works from May’s collection, and again in 1951 as part of the show “From Ingres to Gauguin,” during which it was stolen.

— Benjamin Sutton (@bhsutton)

(Photo via Baltimore Museum of Art/Facebook.)