Baltimore police uncover 1951 Renoir theft report
The Associated Press
Posted: Sep 28, 2012 9:04 AM ET
Last Updated: Sep 28, 2012 3:05 PM ET
The Renoir painting that caused a sensation when it was bought at a flea market for $7 US may have been stolen from a museum six decades ago, and an auction house has put its sale on hold.
The planned Saturday auction was cancelled on Thursday after a reporter for 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.
The Impressionist painting, whose title translates as Landscape on the Banks of the Seine, was purchased two years ago at a West Virginia flea market. The buyer, a Virginia woman who has not revealed her name, took it to auction house The Potomack Co. in July, and experts there confirmed it was by the French master Pierre-Auguste Renoir. The frame of the painting includes a Renoir plaque.
'We do not want to sell any item without clear title'—Elizabeth Wainstein, Potomack Co.
It had been expected to fetch $75,000 US or more at auction.
On Friday, police located a 1951 theft report from the Baltimore Museum of Art regarding a Renoir painting matching the description of the Impressionist work. Dated from Nov. 17, 1951, the report says there was no evidence of forced entry at the museum and listed the painting's value at $2,500 US.
"Potomack is relieved this came to light in a timely manner as we do not want to sell any item without clear title," Elizabeth Wainstein, the owner of the Alexandria, Va.-based auction house, said in a statement.
Potomack and museum officials said they have notified the FBI about the theft.
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.
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.
"We were caught by surprise," Bolger said Thursday.
Bolger said she would be happy to show the painting again if it is ultimately returned to the museum.
"As this unfolds, we'll find out more about the ownership of the painting," she said. "If the painting is ours, we would be pleased to have it on view."
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