The 1879 Impressionist painting "Paysage Bords de Seine,"
dashed off for his mistress by Pierre-Auguste Renoir at a
riverside restaurant, has been at the center of a legal
tug-of-war between Marcia "Martha" Fuqua, a former physical
education teacher from Lovettsville, Virginia, and the Baltimore
Museum of Art in Maryland.
Judge Leonie Brinkema, in a hearing in the U.S. District Court
for the Eastern District of Virginia, dismissed Fuqua's claim of
ownership, noting that a property title cannot be transferred if
it resulted from a theft.
"The museum has put forth an extensive amount of documentary
evidence that the painting was stolen," Brinkema said, citing a
1951 police report and museum records.
"All the evidence is on the Baltimore museum's side. You still
have no evidence — no evidence — that this wasn't stolen," said
Brinkema to Fuqua's attorney before ruling in favor of the
Fuqua bought the unsigned "Paysage Bords de Seine," or
"Landscape on the Banks of the Seine," at a Harpers Ferry, West
Virginia, flea market in late 2009 because she liked the frame,
she said in a court filing. She paid $7 for the painting, along
with a box of trinkets.
Although the frame carried the nameplate "Renoir 1841-1919,"
Fuqua was unaware the 5-1/2-by-9-inch oil painting was genuine
and stored it in a garbage bag for 2-1/2 years, she said.
A REAL RENOIR
Her mother, an art teacher and painter, urged her in July 2012
to get the painting appraised. Fuqua took it to the Potomack Co,
an Alexandria, Virginia, auction house, which verified it was as
an authentic Renoir.
After media reports about the painting, the Baltimore Museum of
Art said in September 2012 it had been stolen while on loan to
it. The Federal Bureau of Investigation then took custody of it.
What happened to the painting in the time after the theft in
November 1951 and the time it surfaced at a flea market is not
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Fuqua had contended that "Paysage Bords de Seine"
should be returned to her since she was unaware of it having been
stolen or of it being genuine.
The Potomack Co had estimated the painting's value at $75,000 to
$100,000, but an appraisal done for the FBI said it was worth about
The painting is soiled and "there is a distinct lack of enthusiasm
for paintings by Renoir now considered a more old-fashioned taste,"
appraiser Ted Cooper said, quoting an art market report.
Renoir painted the work for his mistress on a linen napkin, while at
a restaurant near the Seine River, Cooper said, quoting museum
Questions about its ownership also have diminished the painting's
value, said the appraisal, which is part of court filings.
"Paysage Bords de Seine" came to the Baltimore museum through one of
its leading benefactors, collector Saidie May. Her family bought the
painting from the Bernheim-Jeune gallery in Paris in 1926 and May
lent it, along with other works, to the museum in 1937.
May died in May 1951 and the collection was willed to the museum. As
its ownership was going through legal transfer, the painting was
stolen while still listed as being on loan.
(Reporting by Ian Simpson; editing by
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