A Federal judge in the United States has ruled that a small painting by the French impressionist artist Pierre-Auguste Renoir should be returned to the Baltimore museum where it was stolen over 60 years ago. Judge Leonie Brinkema rejected the claim of ownership from Marcia “Martha” Fuqua, who said that she had purchased the napkin – sized oil sketch for $7 at a West Virginia flea market in 2009. The judge stated that there was ‘overwhelming evidence’ that the painting was stolen from the Baltimore Museum of Art in 1951.
Fuqua, who did not attend Friday’s hearing, had consigned to sell the painting at auction, where it was estimated to fetch $75,000. The lot was withdrawn after the museum claimed the painting was stolen. It was later seized by the FBI. Fuqua claimed to be an“innocent buyer” when she was questioned by the FBI stating “Because I am not an art historian, collector, appraiser, or dealer, I lacked the expertise to identify the Renoir Painting’s authenticity, origins or previous ownership history.”
Renoir painted “Paysage bords de Seine,” or “On the shore of the Seine,” on a linen napkin in 1879 on the spot at a riverside restaurant for his mistress.
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. The Museum has stated that the painting was stolen “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. 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 realise it had been there, BMA director Doreen Bolger said”.