Yesterday, The Washington Post reported that a long-fought court battle over a Renoir painting between the Baltimore Museum of Art and a woman who allegedly purchased it for seven dollars at a flea market finally came to an end. A federal judge ruled that the painting must be returned to the BMA.
“Darn,” said Martha Fuqua about the decision. 51 year-old Fuqua, who claimed to have found the 5½-by-9-inch painting in a box with a plastic Paul Bunyan doll and a toy cow, was not in attendance at the hearing. Many have come to publicly doubt her story, including her brother, Matt Fuqua. Some who knew the family came forward, saying they had seen the painting in the possession of Fuqua's mother, Marica Fouquet, in the 1980s and 90s. Fouquet attended the Baltimore art college in 1951, when the painting was reported stolen. Fuqua's mother passed five months ago at 85-years-of-age.
Matt Fuqua told press outside of the hearing that his mother never revealed where the painting, entitled “On the Shore of the Seine,”came from, but he believed it was a gift. The painting came into the public eye in September of 2012 when Martha attempted to auction the painting, expecting $100,000 or more, under the user-name “RenoirGirl.” The BMA identified the painting as one that had been donated to the institute in 1926. Matt said that his mother had urged Martha to return the painting before her death.
In court, representatives of the BMA argued that since the artwork was stolen, no one can have legal title over it, regardless of how they came upon it. Fuqua's lawyer claimed that the documents presented as evidence were inadmissible because of lack of proper authentication. U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema found in the favor of the BMA because of overwhelming evidence that the painting had, in fact, been stolen in 1951. The FBI is investigating the circumstances of the theft.
The BMA will exhibit the painting with other works given by the donor, Saidie May, and may make print outs of the painting's remarkable story for patrons. BMA director Doreen Bolger was unconcerned about further theft. “It’ll be anchored to the wall,” she said.