The lost Renoir painting that turned up at a Virginia flea market for $7 may have been stolen from the Baltimore Museum of Art more than 60 years ago.
The painting was supposed to be auctioned on Saturday, but was cancelled after a reporter from The Washington Post discovered documents in the museum’s library showing that the painting was stolen in 1951 while it was on loan there, reports Yahoo! News.
The painting, titled “Paysage Bords de Seine” by Pierre-Auguste Renoir was purchased about two years ago by a Virginia woman. She took it to The Potomack Co. auction house in July, where experts confirmed it was an original Renoir painting.
It was expected to fetch at least $75,000 at auction, but Elizabeth Wainstein, the owner of the Alexandria, Va.-based auction house stated:
“Potomack is relieved this came to light in a timely manner as we do not want to sell any item without clear title.”
The FBI has been notified about the theft and an FBI spokesman assured that the bureau is investigating the theft. International Business Times notes that both Potomack and museum officials are cooperating with the investigation.
Documents discovered by the Washington Post reporter show that the painting was on loan to the museum from the collection of Saidie May, a major donor to the Baltimore Museum of Art. The painting was reported stolen on November 17, 1951, but despite the theft, there is no known police report. The Renoir painting also doesn’t appear on a worldwide registry of stolen artwork, and disappeared shortly after May’s death.
Museum officials did not realize initially that the painting had been at the BMA, because it had not yet officially been accepted into the museum’s collection. BMA director Doreen Bolger stated:
“We were caught by surprise. As this unfolds, we’ll find out more about the ownership of the painting. If the painting is ours, we would be pleased to have it on view.”
Until the FBI finishes their investigation, the reprotedly stolen painting will remain at the auction house.