March 5, 2014

The Little Renoir

Have you heard the saga of the little Renoir painting that turned up about a year ago? It’s quite a story, but suffice to say, the truth will never be known.renoir

About a year ago, a small Renoir painting, Paysage Bord du Seine, appeared in a local auction room, and the story behind how it came to be there was a little fishy: in a box at a flea market, but the owner couldn’t remember where it was or when she’d gotten it, just that she liked the painting. Naturally, the arrival of the painting garnered some press, and one of the reporters at the Washington Post, the local paper, did some digging to see how a painting owned by a wealthy gentleman who spent his time between Paris and New York, ended up in a West Virginia flea market.

The painting is tiny, only 5.5 x 9 inches, and painted on a linen table napkin. It’s not one of Renoir’s best works, but it’s still a Renoir!image

The reporter came up to Baltimore and did some digging through the Baltimore Museum of Art’s archives (and it they’re anything like the ones at my office, they’re not in great shape) and found this:image

To make a long and drawn out story short, here are some facts: The painting was stolen in 1951. At that time, a woman student at a local art school, who specialized in copying the Impressionists, was working at the BMA. The woman who put the painting up for auction was the student’s daughter. The student’s son said the painting had hung in their house for years. The case went to court. The daughter lost.

The Baltimore Museum of Art got their painting back, in a round-about way, from the insurance company, who’d paid the claim, but who was giving the painting back to the Museum. You can get a good idea of just how small the painting is, here in the conservation lab, with Museum Director, Doreen Bolger.image

It will go on exhibit on March 30, 2014. If you want to see it, bring your own magnifying glass.image

If you want to read all of the twists and turns of this story, click here to see the whole list of the Post stories. And here’s a good story about how the Post’s reporter discovered that the painting had been stolen. It’s all fascinating and more than a little crazy.

20 comments:

  1. wow. good old fashioned J-School reporter research. A paper trail. do these exist in the digital age. a story of misplaced trust, in the employee and truth is stranger than fiction, you can not make something like this up. read a newspaper, better yet subscribe to your local paper. help support your local newspaper reporter. amen.

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  2. Hi Meg, These stories of miraculous finds are always suspicious in the extreme. The surprising thing is that it was not exposed more quickly. 1951 is not all that long ago, experts tend to have incredibly detailed memories, and there are all kinds of indexes of stolen art. One would imagine that when a valuable painting turns up, the auction house would be more vigilant.
    --Jim

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    1. My understanding is that they didn't realize it was stolen until sometime later and because the donation of the paintings, and there were a number of them, was not quite finalized yet, it slipped between the cracks.

      And the whole story of finding the painting was shaky from the start.

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  3. These type of art finds are not as unusual though are they? rightful ownership has always been an issue ever since the Restoration and even more so during WW2...

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    1. Not uncommon, but the back-story on this is what's fascinating.

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  4. Very interesting. I think I'll go see it in person. Thanks!

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  5. Fascinating Meg, the painting is an extraordinary jewel.
    xoxo
    Karena
    2014 Artists Series

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  6. what an interesting story + thanks xxpeggybraswelldesign.com

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  7. Love this story! It reminds me of the story of Joshua Bell's Gibson Stradivarius violin, that was previously stolen from backstage at Carnegie Hall in the 1930s. Some hack of a fiddle player smeared it up with shoe polish so no one would recognize it and played it at second-rate gigs his whole life. I think he confessed to his wife on his deathbed or something and then she came forward with the instrument. Crazy that anyone would have the audacity to steal a concert violinist's Stradivarius, or to steal a Renoir from a museum!

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    1. What a crazy story. I didn't know that.

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  8. Have you ever come across "Fake or Fortune"? It's a British TV programme about the identification of paintings owned by members of the public that undergo scrutiny to determine whether they are real or not. Fascinating process, some with wonderful endings. Just watched one about two Constable pictures, one owned by a couple in the US bought for USD40,000 and having been identified as real, now estimated to be worth USD1m.

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    1. I only recently heard of this because of a disputed Matisse or something.

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  9. I read the Post stories in real time and it is so clear the woman stole the painting and her daughter knew it.

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