Museum Fights for 'Flea-Market' Renoir

Baltimore -- An original oil painting by the Impressionist artist Renoir that caused a press sensation when it was put up for auction, after allegedly being discovered at a flea market for $7, is back in the news this coming week.

Art collectors of ArtKabinett social media network followed this story when it first broke in September, 2012.

The mini masterpiece is now at the center of a legal battle between a woman and the Baltimore Museum of Art.The auction house selling the work pulled the lot from their sale and the painting has been locked in FBI custody for over 15 months.

Marcia “Martha” Fuqua, a former PE teacher, who claimed she bought the valuable work of art at a flea market, is rumored to have taken the artwork from her mother, a painter and graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art, who once specialized in reproducing works by many well known artists, including Renoir.

The legal papers state that Fuqua filed in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia to retain ownership of the painting, arguing she is the painting’s “innocent owner,” with “a layperson’s understanding of art” and that she had no idea that the painting that she found in a box , with a plastic cow, and a Paul Bunyan doll was an original Renoir.

It has been suggested that Ms Fuqua's brother "initially told The Washington Post that she’d found the painting in their mother’s studio", which if true, contradicts her original story. Other family friends also claim to have seen the work of art in her mothers home.

Museum Claims Ownership

The Museum has stated that the painting was stolen -- most likely by Martha Fuqua's mother -- back in the 1950's.

The Washington Post discovered documents in the Baltimore Museum of Art's library showing that the painting was exhibited there from 1937 until 1951.

They are in possession of paperwork proving that the work was bequeathed to the BMA by Saidie May, a well know patron of the museum.

It was reported stolen on Nov. 17, 1951, according to the documents, although there is no known police report and the painting does not appear on a worldwide registry of stolen art.

The reported theft occurred shortly after May’s death, and the painting had not yet been formally accepted into the museum’s collection, which is why museum officials did not initially realize it had been there, BMA director Doreen Bolger said

The small napkin sized painting from 1879 depicts in vibrancy, the River Seine in spatters of pinks, blues and greens, definitively is a classical Renoir.

The case continues on 10 January when a hearing has been set in Alexandria federal court to determine whether the Baltimore Museum of Art or Martha Fuqua own the Renoir.