Judge orders Renoir painting returned to Baltimore museum - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

Judge orders Renoir painting returned to Baltimore museum

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The painting that was supposedly purchased for a few dollars at a flea market is going home to the Baltimore Museum of Art. The picture had been stolen from that museum in 1951.

The painting is by the famous French impressionist Renoir.

On one side of the ownership case: a Virginia woman named Martha Fuqua, who told reporters she had traveled to West Virginia, where, at a flea market, she purchased the painting and some other items, for $7.

At first, Fuqua treated the painting in a rather cavalier manner.

"It was in my shed," she told us by phone in 2012. "It was in the trunk of my car. It was in the spare bedroom."

Fuqua brought the painting to an Alexandria auction house, which recognized it was a genuine Renoir entitled "On The Shore Of The Seine." The auction house publicized the existence of the painting.

Enter the Baltimore Museum of Art, which has been collecting paintings since 1914, including “On The Shore Of The Seine,” which had been stolen from the museum in 1951.

The FBI swooped in and grabbed the painting, and the issue of ownership went before a federal judge. The attorney for the museum presented written evidence of ownership and of the theft in November of 1951.

"On the catalog card, it indicated the painting was stolen from us," explained museum attorney Marla Diaz. "There [were] also executive minutes from the Baltimore Museum of Art indicating that we had submitted an insurance claim for the painting, and that Fireman's Fund Insurance Company had agreed to pay the claim."

The attorney also showed the judge a 1951 report from the Baltimore Police Department describing the theft of the painting.

Wayne Biggs, the attorney for Fuqua, argued those museum documents are "ancient" and amount to "hearsay."

U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema disagreed with Biggs' position, calling the old paperwork "powerful corroborative evidence that the painting was stolen."

Judge Brinkema ordered the Renoir to be returned to its rightful owner: The Baltimore Museum of Art.

When the Renoir was stolen over 60 years ago, the insurance company payout was $2,500. Nowadays, the painting is worth many times that amount.

But the museum is not selling “On The Shore Of The Seine.” The lost-missing Renoir will be put on public display beginning in late March.

The mystery of who actually stole the painting in 1951 remains unsolved.

Related Stories:

Legal fight continues over Renoir painting

Renoir artwork bought from flea market for $7 now thought stolen from museum

Woman's $7 flea market purchase turns out to contain Renoir painting

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