The story generated worldwide attention and, for a time, promised to produce a six-figure windfall at auction for its accidental owner. But late last year, the FBI seized the painting, called “On the Shore of the Seine,” after the Baltimore Museum of Art learned it had been stolen in 1951.
Now, to retain ownership of the painting, Renoir Girl has been forced to unmask herself in court papers, as a federal judge in Alexandria determines who should get the painting.
Renoir Girl’s true name: Marcia “Martha” Fuqua. A former phys ed teacher, she runs a driving school out of her Lovettsville home in rural Loudoun County. She is no stranger to legal drama — or to the art world.
“I am a very private person,” she told The Washington Post in September, when she was still pseudonymous. “I am one of those people that believes that things happen for a reason,” including stumbling on a long-missing Renoir. “It’s all very coincidental.”
Shortly after “On the Shore of the Seine” had been seized, Fuqua, 51, wrote a letter to the FBI, pleading that her flea-market find be returned. Her chief argument: The government should recognize her as the painting’s “innocent owner” as defined by federal law. She had no clue, she said, that the piece — for sale in a box with a plastic cow and a Paul Bunyan doll — was a real Renoir. She had no reason to think the painting could have been stolen art and subject to FBI forfeiture.
“I have a layperson’s understanding of art,” she wrote to investigators in December. “I am not an art dealer or broker, art historian or art collector, and have no special education, training or experience which would give me expertise in the field of fine art or in particular, in the identification of authentic French Impressionistic works.”
But Fuqua, who declined to be interviewed for this story, grew up with a mother steeped in fine arts. Her mother — who goes by the professional name Marcia Fouquet in homage to a French ancestor — is a painter who specialized in reproducing the pieces of several famous artists, including Renoir, according to an online biography and people who used to work at her art studio.
Fouquet, 84, has artistic roots in Baltimore. She graduated from Goucher College with a fine arts degree in 1952 and earned a master’s degree from the Maryland Institute College of Art in 1957. In her thesis, she briefly analyzes a Renoir portrait.
For at least two decades, Fouquet ran an art studio for children and adults at her home in Fairfax County. The Great Falls Art Center offered classes in drawing, painting, pottery, sculpture and art history. Approached there, Fouquet declined to be interviewed.