According to a U.S. District Court ruling, a Renoir painting that was stolen from the Baltimore Museum of Art in 1951 and recently bought at a flea market still belongs to the museum. Judge Leonie M. Brinkema's decision yesterday afternoon ended a long saga over the napkin-sized painting.
If you believe the legend, "Landscape on the Banks of the Seine" was originally painted by Pierre-Auguste Renoir as a gift for his mistress 135 years ago. The painting was sold twice before it was loaned to the Baltimore Museum of Art in 1937 by a collector named Saidie May. Fourteen years later, the oil-on-linen was reported stolen by the museum.
"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 last year, explaining how the painting never ended up on a registry of stolen art.
For nearly 60 years, there had been no news about the painting until a Virginia woman reportedly found it at a West Virginia flea market in 2009, where she promptly bought it. For $7. A few years later, she brought the painting to an auction house in Virginia to have it appraised. Shortly after, it was determined that the painting was real and would be put up for auction.
The Renoir was expected to fetch at least $75,000, but the auction was canceled after the painting was traced back to the Baltimore Museum of Art. The museum wanted the piece back and the new owner, understandably, believed that it now belonged to her. Prior to yesterday's ruling, the Baltimore Museum of Art said it would hope to put the painting on display again. Now that the decision has been reached, at least the woman won't have to travel too far to see it, right?