Sale of flea-market Renoir postponed; painting may be stolen

CHRISTINE MILLER FORD
Spirit Staff
HARPERS FERRY – Saturday’s auction of a landscape by French impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir – bought in a box for $7 at a flea market here two years ago – has been postponed, with the auction house citing concerns that the painting have been stolen from a Baltimore museum in 1951.
The Potomack Co. late this afternoon released word of the change. Officials say the postponement came after a Washington Post reporter discovered documents in the Baltimore Museum of Art’s library that showed “Paysage Bords de Seine” was in the museum’s collection starting in 1937.
Officials from the auction house say they checked on ownership issues months ago. On July 27, the same day their expert confirmed the painting was a Renoir, they contacted the Art Loss Register – a service that records and follows missing and stolen works of art – to confirm that the painting had never been reported stolen or missing, according to the auction house.
“Potomack also consulted the FBI’s art theft website to confirm that it was not listed as stolen by the FBI,” according to a news release sent by the company.
But it wasn’t until the reporter raised questions that the Baltimore Museum of Art reviewed its records and confirmed the painting had in fact been swiped.
When officials from the museum called late Wednesday with the news, Potomack Co. owner Elizabeth Wainstein immediately notified the FBI, which has begun an investigation.
“At this time, many questions remain about the fate of the painting after it was loaned to the museum in 1937 and the ownership of the painting then and now,” a news release from Potomack states. “Given these questions, Potomack and the consignor have decided to withdraw the painting from the [Saturday] sale until any questions about its ownership are resolved.
In the release, Wainstein adds: “Potomack is relieved this came to light in a timely manner as we do not want to sell any item without clear title. Our objective in conducting a sale is always to ensure fairness and finality both for the consignor and for the buying public. Postponing the sale of the Renoir painting is the best way of achieving that objective in this case.”
The auction house was to auction the painting for a Virginia woman who has been identified. She said she bought the painting in Harpers Ferry along with a plastic cow and a Paul Bunyan figure.
Potomack officials had predicted the painting would sell for as much as $100,000.

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