Woman who ‘found’ Renoir at flea market disputes museum’s claim

The Washington Post

Martha Fuqua, “Renoir Girl,” has denounced as “improperly authenticated” a museum’s evidence that it owns the long-lost Renoir painting she claims and has asked a judge to dismiss the Baltimore Museum of Art’s motion for summary judgment.

For much of the past year, Fuqua, a Virginia driving instructor, and the BMA have been wrangling in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia, over who owns “On the Shore of the Seine,” a tiny 1879 landscape.

The painting made news in September last year when an anonymous woman — Fuqua — said she had unwittingly purchased the painting at a West Virginia flea market for $7 and was trying to auction it off for as much as $100,000. Days before the auction set for that September, the BMA discovered internal records showing that it had owned the painting until 1951, when it was stolen from its building. The museum says one of its longtime donors, Saidie May, had given it the painting.

The revelation prompted the FBI to seize the work and ask a judge to determine ownership.

In court filings, Fuqua disputes that May owned the painting, citing a receipt produced during discovery showing that Herbert May, her then-husband, bought the piece in 1925 and saying that “there is no evidence” that he “gifted” the painting to his wife.

The BMA is expected to file its reply by the end of the month. The BMA is hoping that the judge will dismiss Fuqua’s claims and return the painting to the museum without a trial.

Several witnesses have cast doubt on Fuqua’s credibility. Some former friends of her family have told The Washington Post that they remember seeing the Renoir in the 1980s and 1990s hanging in the home of her mother, a painter who attended art college in Baltimore at the time of the reported theft.

Fuqua’s brother and his girlfriend also dispute key points in her story, saying the Renoir was at her mother’s home as recently as 2011, two years beyond when Fuqua said she had bought it at a flea market and continuously stored it at her home.