Sep 28, 2012

Flea market Renoir really was a steal

Paysage Bords de Seine, Renoir
Every time I hear the story of a flea market sale where some lucky buyer with a good eye purchased a work by a well-known artist, I always think that chances are good that work was stolen at some point. How does a Renoir make it to a flea market, really. And that's the story of this Renoir purchased at a flea market in West Virginia for $7. It was scheduled for auction this week, but now it looks likely to have been stolen some time before 1951 from the Baltimore Museum of Art.

The painting has not it seems been reported to art loss databases. The Washington Post notes that its own reporters conducted research and found the painting was missing from the Baltimore Museum of Art:


Museum officials then searched their archives, where they found paperwork showing that the Impressionist work, “Paysage Bords de Seine,” or “Landscape on the Banks of the Seine,” was pilfered from their building nearly 61 years ago. The museum had the painting on loan from one of its famous benefactors, Saidie A. May, a Baltimore native who died in May 1951. Museum records show that the Renoir was stolen on Nov. 17, 1951, just as May’s art collection was being bequeathed to the museum for permanent ownership. The revelations put on hold Saturday’s much-ballyhooed auction of the Renoir at the Potomack Company in Alexandria. Elizabeth Wainstein, Potomack’s president, said the Virginia woman who made the flea market find was disappointed. But she immediately agreed to halt the sale until the FBI determines the rightful ownership of the painting, which the auction house estimated is worth $75,000 to $100,000. It will remain at the auction house until then, Wainstein said.
The case reveals the importance of reporting a theft, even decades into the future. There is no word on whether the doll and plastic cow the anonymous flea market art buyer also bought with the this $7 painting are stolen as well. But the buyer should get credit for reportedly cooperating fully with the FBI.

  1. Ian Shapira, Flea market Renoir was allegedly stolen from Baltimore Museum of Art, auction canceled, The Washington Post, September 27, 2012.
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