Renoir Gem Found at Flea Market

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 tops, and perhaps even a record that could bring a small fortune in forty years time. Amazingly, an anonymous woman in Virginia stumbled across a genuine Renoir painting that was carelessly kept amongst the moth bitten jumpers and cracking crockery. The surprise to find an authentic Renoir must have been overwhelming to say the least. Seems she will be frequenting boot sales more often after this treasure hunt.

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 look to fetch between $75,000 to $100,000 later this month when it goes up for auction at Potomack Company just outside of Washington DC. Paysage Bords de Seine, the title of the piece, is modest in size and could easily have been overlooked had it not been for the framing engraved with “Renoir” in prominent lettering in the middle. It only measures a mere 14 centimetres by 23 centimetres was quickly going to be disposed of along side a collection of dolls and plastic oddities, until this lady was struck with the desire to take a closer look at what was to be found among the bits and bobs. The lady who found it, admits she thought nothing more of it, and had indeed planned to shred it until her mother suggested otherwise. It was suggested at that point to have the painting evaluated by a professional, and the actuality of their finding was revealed. The auction house, planning to sell it later this month has praised the “luminosty” which characterizes much of Renoir’s work, but is particularly stunning in this piece.

Following the appraisal, a bit more history of the piece was unveiled to the ladies. 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 anonymous lady who found the piece is still baffled, and thankful that she has lived to see the work go up for sale. Since she found the piece, she has revealed that she does work that is high profile and even comes from a French background. She did not want to be known by name for fear of media hounding but is thoroughly pleased that “the house didn’t burn down” before she had a chance to see what would come of the work. Most paintings that come to the auction for evaluation do not come with such an interesting story, making this tale all the more enjoyable. It is one that is uplifting and full of hope during times of uncertainty and doubt.

Lost treasures can be found anywhere, even in West Virginia. They can be found amongst plastic cows and dolls, they even can be worth a lot of money in this case. Later this month the recently recovered Renoir painting will go up for auction and will acquire a new home. It is not known if this will be a museum or gallery where the public will be able to enjoy it’s brightness and colour, or if it will go into a private collection. Either way, this painting has a lot more traveling to do before it reaches it’s final destination.


Words by: Portia Pettersen Copyright Artlyst 2012

Image from: Washington Post

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