J is for Judge’s Ruling

| April 1, 2014

Headlines today read “Renoir’s On the Shore of the Seine returns to the Baltimore Museum of Art more than 60 years after its theft”.  A judge ruled that it be returned to the Baltimore museum instead of sold at auction, where it was estimated to sell for about $100,000.

This painting is unusual, rumored to have been painted on a  tiny piece of linen napkin for his mistress, it was stolen from the museum in 1951 and resurfaced in 2012 when a woman tried to sell it, claiming she had bought it at a flea market. The Baltimore Museum was not actively looking for the painting though… the work of an inquisitive reporter lead to its return.

A woman wanted to sell this painting at auction, claiming she had found it at a Flea market. The provenance of this work was that it had been purchased in Paris in 1925 by American art collectors Herbert and Saidie May. The May’s were major donors to the Baltimore Museum. When Ian Shapira, the Washington Post reporter saw this he was skeptical of the flea market story. He contacted the Baltimore Museum to find that at first they did not have any record that the Renoir belonged to them…until Shapira went to the museum to look through May’s papers. Of course he discovered the stolen status of the painting and it was seized by the FBI.

Mr. Shapira continued to investigate speaking to the brother of the woman who tried to sell the painting. The brother said that the painting had been hanging in his mothers house for as long as he could remember. Their mother was named Marcia Fouquet, and had died in September of 2013. She was a beautiful artist who went to art school in Baltimore at the time of the theft. She lived in a house in Fairfax, VA where she rented out rooms. Shapira spoke to some former tenants who told him they also remembered the painting hanging in the house. Apparently Ms. Fouquet had not discussed how she came to own the painting.

In court the woman continued to argue she had bought the painting at a flea market and the Baltimore Museum had proof that it belonged to them. The judge found for the museum.

Someone should make this story into a movie…