Renoir Painting Returned to Museum

ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA ― U.S. District Court Judge Leonie M. Brinkema has granted a motion for summary judgment in favor of the Baltimore Museum of Art in a civil case brought in connection with the theft and later sale of an 1879 unsigned oil painting on linen by Pierre-Auguste Renoir titled the “Paysage Bords de Seine.”

Dana J. Boente, acting U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, and Valerie Parlave, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Washington field office, made the announcement after a hearing in front of U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema.

“The United States Attorney’s Office is pleased by the outcome of the decision, which we believe is amply supported by the evidence and the law,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Boente. “The court’s ruling will ensure that the painting is returned to its rightful owner at the Baltimore Museum of Art.”

The case was filed in federal court as an interpleader action by the U.S. Attorney’s Office after the government learned that the Renoir painting, which originally had been stolen from the Baltimore Museum of Art in 1951, had been brought to a local auction company in Alexandria, Virginia, to offer for sale in 2012. The FBI later served a seizure warrant to gain custody of the painting until the matter was resolved in court.

As part of the proceedings, the Baltimore Museum of Art filed a summary judgment motion claiming that it was the rightful owner of the painting via a loan from a Baltimore heiress, Sadie A. May, and a subsequent bequest in May’s will. The BMA also presented evidence that the painting was stolen from the museum while on exhibit in November 1951, as reflected in a Baltimore police report filed at the time and documentation of an insurance payment received from the Fireman’s Fund Insurance Co.

As part of the suit, Lovettesville, Virginia, resident Martha Fuqua claimed that she had purchased the painting at a flea market for seven dollars and was therefore a bona fide purchaser for value in possession of the property. The court ruled, however, that Fuqua’s alleged flea market purchase could not defeat the BMA’s title to the property as the true owner.

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