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Renoir Found At Flea Market May Be Real, But It's Also Stolen

This weekend's auction of a flea-market find that turned out to be a work by French Impressionist master Pierre-Auguste Renoir has been put on hold, after evidence turned up the painting had been pilfered from a Baltimore museum decades ago.
Paul J. Richards
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AFP/Getty Images
This weekend's auction of a flea-market find that turned out to be a work by French Impressionist master Pierre-Auguste Renoir has been put on hold, after evidence turned up the painting had been pilfered from a Baltimore museum decades ago.

Turns out there's a bigger story behind the Renoir painting purchased for $7 a couple of years ago at a West Virginia flea market — a mystery, and an alleged theft, in fact.

A reporter from The Washington Post discovered evidence that the small painting — "Paysage Bords de Seine," or "Landscape on the Banks of the Seine" by French Impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir — was stolen from the Baltimore Museum of Art more than six decades ago.

Documents show that the museum had the painting — on loan from its owner, Baltimore art collector Saidie May — in its possession from 1937 until at least 1949. When May died in 1951, the painting was bequeathed to the museum. It vanished on Nov. 17, 1951.

The Renoir — which sat untouched in a box until its new owner's mother suggested she have it authenticated — was supposed to go on auction this weekend in Virginia. That event has been postponed, and the FBI is investigating.

So it looks like there may not be a lucrative ending to this story, as there was for a similar saga in North Carolina. Beth Feeback, an artist who specializes in cat portraits, was planning to paint over an abstract painting she bought at a Goodwill store for $9.99 — but her friends urged her to make sure it wasn't valuable. Turns out it was, and it fetched more than $27,000 at auction.

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Maureen Pao is an editor, producer and reporter on NPR's Digital News team. In her current role, she is lead digital editor and producer for All Things Considered. Her primary responsibility is coordinating, producing and editing high-impact online components for complex, multipart show projects and host field reporting.