Several weeks ago we reportedthat a Virginia woman had purchased a small painting at a West Virginia flea market that was believed to be an authentic Renoir valued at closed to $100,000. Although the purchase price was not reported at the time, it is now believed that she paid $7 for the painting which was included in a box of junk with a doll and a plastic cow. The Potomack Company auction house authenticated the work as a genuine Renior purchased by Baltimore collector Herbert L. May in Paris in 1926. At the time, the art world questioned how a painting journeyed from the estate of a wealthy collector to a $7 box of junk at a flea market. After some diligent research, the Washington Post has determined that the painting was originally lent to the Baltimore Museum of Art by May’s wife Sadie in 1937. The Washinton Post also uncovered that the painting was reported as stolen in 1951 and a $2500 claim was paid. This further complicates the complex web of entangled ownership as the Post writes,
The true owner of the painting might be the company that insured the Renoir at the time of its disappearance, said Christopher A. Marinello, executive director and general counsel of the London-based Art Loss Register, the world’s largest private database of stolen and lost art. In the mid-20th century, most art insurers had policies stipulating that they are entitled to stolen artwork that is recovered and for which they’ve paid claims, he said.
“Does the insurance company own the painting? Of course they do,” Marinello said. “When an insurance company [back then] paid out on losses, the title resided with the insurer.”
The Potomack Company auction house has cancelled the sale of the Renoir until the true owner of the work is determined. As the small work On the Shore of the Seine was purportedly painted by Renoir on a linen napkin for his mistress, it seems that perhaps it was destined to be unclean and under the table with multiple individuals claiming possession.