Renoir Painting

Renoir’s Famous Les Parapluies (The Umbrellas), 1883

A recent dispute over a small Renoir painting—discovered and purchased for $7 at a flea market two years ago—surfaced last month when the painting was scheduled to go up for auction at the Potomack Co. The auction has since been postponed.It seems police have uncovered a theft report from 1951 indicating that the painting may have been stolen from the Baltimore Museum of Art after being privately donated; however the missing painting was never reported stolen to a worldwide registry.The painting, then worth about $2,500 is now expected to be worth at least $75,000. Now, the question that remains is who has ownership rights over the painting. Since discovering the theft report, the BMA has been sifting through records to find more evidence that might link the ownership of the painting back to them.

Saidie A. May, the original donor of the Renoir had written into her will that each of the paintings she gave to the museum were to stay there. If the painting turns out to be the same that was stolen, the BMA has a solid claim to it.

However, the museum also collected $2,500 from its insurance company (currently unknown) after the theft, so it’s possible that the company will also join in on this civil case once.

And of course, there’s the woman who purchased it most recently at a flea market. Even if it was stolen, she was unaware and fairly purchased the painting. Should it stay with her? Or will she give up ownership to the museum willingly?

How or why such a valuable painting ended up at a flea market is a mystery. The FBI has confirmed that the investigation will continue in an attempt to determine where the piece came from. It’s quite probable that they will begin by returning to the flea market and trying to track down the original vendor.