BMA Claims Flea-Market Renoir

A Renoir painting that sparked a worldwide press frenzy, when it was put up for auction after being discovered at a flea market for $7, may have been stolen decades ago, from the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Art collectors of ArtKabinett social network learned earlier this month that a woman in Virginia stumbled across a genuine Renoir painting that was carelessly placed amongst cracking crockery {see Ak Files : 13 September 2012}.

The surprise to find an authentic Renoir must have been overwhelming to say the least.

Now, the auction house selling the work has pulled the lot from their current sale and inquiries are now being made into how the painting came to wind up in a box of mixed household goods.

Many things can be found at flea markets. Some of them great and others not, but very few stumble across a piece of history like this. People often walk away with a few new dinner plates, and perhaps even a record that could bring a small fortune in forty years time.

This small painting by Renoir vibrantly depicts the River Seine in spatters of pinks, blues and greens.

Distinctly in the style of Renoir, it was recently valued between $75,000 to $100,000 at auction at a Potomack Company just outside of Washington DC.

"Paysage Bords de Seine", the painting which was described as modest in size has now been turned over to the police.

The frame had a plaque engraved with “Renoir” in prominent lettering in the middle. It measured a mere 14 centimeters by 23 centimeters.

It was suggested prior to auction that the painting be evaluated by a professional, and their finding revealed it to be authentic.

As a result of the appraisal research process, a bit more history of the piece was unveiled :

The original label from Berheim-Jeune gallery in Paris was clearly identified on the work, confirming it’s authenticity, and suggesting its path of travel to America.

The piece had originally belonged to an American art collector named Herbert May, who bought the tiny, yet spectacular piece from the famous art seller in 1926.

It was not uncommon for paintings and other art pieces to be lost in transit during that time period, and the collector was parted from the work on his steamship back to America.

The fact that the piece kept its original label from Berheim-Jeune increased the value and allowed further research into the work's provenance, or chain of possession.

"The Washington Post discovered documents in the Baltimore Museum of Art’s library showing that the painting was on loan there from 1937 until 1951, when it was stolen.

Potomack and BMA officials have notified the FBI about the theft, and an FBI spokesman said the bureau was investigating.

The documents uncovered by The Post in the museum’s library indicated that the painting was part of the collection of Sadie May, a major donor to the BMA, and widow of Herbert May.

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 Sadie 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.