From Md. to W.Va.
Somehow, after the May family bought the Renoir in the 1920s, the painting ended up in a box at the Harpers Ferry Flea Market in West Virginia in 2010. An anonymous Baltimore native, now living in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, said she bought the piece at the flea market because she liked its frame.
At her mother’s urging, the woman — who calls herself “Renoir Girl” — took the painting to the Potomack Co. auction house, which determined it was real, and scheduled its auction for mid-September.
But the auction was canceled after The Post found documents at the BMA’s library showing that May had lent the Renoir to the museum in the 1930s. Until then, the BMA didn’t know it once had the painting.
In October, the FBI seized the painting from Potomack and placed it in a climate-controlled space, the BMA said. Bonnie Magness-Gardiner, the FBI’s program manager for the art theft division, declined to comment on the investigation into its theft.
The BMA’s insurance company, which the museum has declined to identify, might be entitled to the painting, because it paid a $2,500 claim to the museum after it was reported stolen. Brown, the BMA spokeswoman, said the museum is trying to determine the details of the insurance company’s policy and is waiting for the FBI to complete its investigation.
Once the FBI finishes its investigation, it is likely to ask a judge to determine the painting’s ownership, said Christopher A. Marinello, executive director and general counsel of the London-based Art Loss Register, the world’s largest private database of stolen and lost art.
If both the BMA and Renoir Girl don’t want to risk losing in court, they will probably try to hammer out a settlement, he said.
“Maybe the person who consigned it to the auction company would agree to split the proceeds in some fashion with the museum,” said Marinello, who could not discuss the specifics of this case, because he might be called in to mediate talks between Renoir Girl and the BMA. “The worst thing is for the parties to litigate over this in court because that could take years and cost a half-million dollars — all for a painting that might not be worth a half-million.”
Renoir Girl, who initially gave interviews to several media outlets before her auction was canceled, has declined multiple interview requests since The Post first reported the painting was stolen.
Elizabeth Wainstein, the auction house’s president, said she does not know whether the FBI has interviewed Renoir Girl. “I believe she holds out hope that, in the end, she will have ownership of the painting and would be able to sell it.”
But if the BMA does get the Renoir back and displays it, May’s great-great-niece and biographer said she’ll check it out.
“Out of curiosity,” Adler said, laughing. “It’s not really a great Renoir.”