Masterpiece mystery: Renoir found at flea market for $7 - News, Weather & Sports

Masterpiece mystery: Renoir found at flea market for $7

(NBC) - A masterpiece found at a Virginia flea market is off the auction block.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir's painting "Paysage Bords de Seine" was due to go to auction through the Potomack Company on September 29. However, the auction house announced Thursday that it's pulling the painting from its listings - at least for now - after a Washington Post reporter uncovered its history.

The auction house contacted London-based Art Loss Registry a day after the flea market shopper brought it in back in July. The registry confirmed that it had never been reported stolen or missing, but its history was unknown past 1926, when it was sold to Herbert L. May.

May's wife (at least until their separation in 1924, the auction house notes), Saidie May, was a noted donor of paintings and other items to the Baltimore Museum of Art.

The Potomack Company said in a release Thursday:

"Washington Post reporter Ian Shapira undertook a probing investigation into the whereabouts of the painting since 1926. While doing research in the Museum's library archives on Tuesday, September 25, Shapira discovered a list of paintings from Saidie A. May on loan to the Museum from 1937 that included the Renoir painting.

After Shapira notified Museum officials of his finding, they did an internal investigation of their art collection files and found a loan record indicating that the Renoir painting was stolen in 1951."

According to records uncovered by the Baltimore Police Department, the painting had been stolen in November 1951. More research determined an insurer had paid $2,500 for the loss.

The painting was estimated at $75,000 to $100,000. A Shenandoah Valley flea market shopper scooped it up for $7.

"I originally bought it for the frame," the buyer admitted earlier this month. "I was trying to rip it apart ... I was like, well, maybe I should wait."

Her mother encouraged her to get it appraised.

Although it had the painter's name in a plaque on the frame, that's usually a sign of fakes -- but the appraiser knew what she was looking at.

"Straight away, it just looked right," she said.

The FBI is now investigating.

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