A Renoir painting that sparked a worldwide press frenzy last week, when it was put up for auction, after being discovered at a flea market for $7, may have been stolen decades ago, from a museum in Baltimore. The auction house selling the work has now pulled the lot from their current sale and enquiries 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. 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. We reported last week that an anonymous woman in Virginia stumbled across a genuine Renoir painting that was carelessly placed amongst the moth bitten jumpers and cracking crockery. The surprise to find an authentic Renoir must have been overwhelming to say the least.
This small painting by Renoir, depicts in vibrancy, the seine in spatters of pinks, blues and greens. Distinctly in the style of Renoir, it will was valued between $75,000 to $100,000 at auction at a Potomack Company just outside of Washington DC. Paysage Bords de Seine, the title of 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 centimetres by 23 centimetres. It was suggested at that the painting be evaluated by a professional, and the actuality of their finding revealed it to be authentic.
Following the appraisal, a bit more history of the piece was unveiled. They were told that the original label from Berheim-Jeune arthouse in Paris could be clearly identified on the work, confirming it’s authenticity, and suggesting it’s path of travel to America. The auction house reported as well that the piece had originally belonged to an American art collector named Herbert May, who bought the tiny, yet spectacular piece from the famous gallery 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 trip back to America. History occasionally reveals itself again in peculiar ways, this time in a casual flea market, in no place of consequence. The fact that the piece has maintained it’s original label from Berheim Jeune increases the value and will quell speculations which tend to arise when pieces of work from artist’s of the past are found today.
“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 museum 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 Saidie May, a major donor to the BMA. 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”.