Woman who says she found Renoir at flea market disputes museum’s ownership

December 21, 2013

Martha Fuqua, a.k.a. “Renoir Girl,” asked a federal judge Friday in court filings to dismiss the Baltimore Museum of Art’s motion for partial summary judgment, denouncing the museum’s evidence that it owns a long-lost Renoir painting as “improperly authenticated.”

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

The painting made news in September 2012, when an anonymous woman — who would be revealed to be 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 two sides are scheduled to have a hearing before a federal judge Jan. 10. 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 Fuqua’s story, saying the Renoir had been at the 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.

Ian Shapira is a features writer on the local enterprise team and enjoys writing about people who have served in the military and intelligence communities. He joined the Post in 2000 and has covered education, criminal justice, technology, and art crime.
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