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Art & Antiques by Dr. Lori: Renoir sold for $7 at flea market

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An Auguste Renoir painting purchased for $7 at a flea market in 2010 gave a Virginia judge some new paperwork—in the form of a court case. Many people still believe that there is nothing of any significance or value to be found at yard sales or flea markets, but let me assure you that the major auction houses, high end antiques and art dealers, and many yard sale and flea market shoppers disagree. I too disagree--the good stuff is right under your nose.

An Impressionist study called Landscape on the Banks of the Seine from 1879 measuring 5 ½ x 9 inches once hung on the walls of the Baltimore Museum of Art. It was loaned to the museum until 1951 when it was stolen.
A judge recently ruled that finders are not always keepers—at least not in this case—and stolen property must be returned to its owner. In this case, that means the $7 flea market find has to be returned to the Baltimore Museum of Art.

The painting was painted by Renoir, purportedly for his mistress, and later purchased by the Bernheim-Jeune Gallery in Paris, France. In 1926, Herbert L. May bought the small painting from the Paris gallery. May, a well known Renoir collection kept the painting until 1937. Then, May's ex-wife, Saidie, loaned the painting to the Baltimore Museum of Art. The painting remained on loan at the museum for decades. In 1951, the Baltimore museum reported the painting stolen.

Nearly 60 years later, in 2010, a flea market seller in West Virginia offered a cardboard box filled with a Paul Bunyan doll, a plastic cow and that small Impressionist masterpiece. Asking price: $7. The buyer from Virginia who bought the bargain box thought she might have sometime of value so she brought the painting to an auction house in Alexandria, VA. The auction staff wasn’t sure if the painting was an original Renoir, but it checked with the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC and the experts there knew that it was the real thing and they also knew that the painting belonged in Baltimore. The auction house staff should have had no trouble searching for the stolen painting as they are listed in a database and this information is widely available to experts in the field.

The flea market buyer believed that the painting was rightfully hers however the US judicial system did not agree with her. The Baltimore Museum of Art demanded the Renoir returned. The FBI took possession of the painting until US District Judge, Leonie Brinkema decided (on Friday, January 10, 2014) that the stolen painting must be returned to the Museum.

Finders are not always keepers.

Dr. Lori Verderame is the award-winning, celebrity antiques appraiser on the hit Discovery channel show, Auction Kings. She presents more than 150 antiques appraisal shows worldwide every year. Visit her at DrLoriV.com or (888) 431-1010.

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