Sunday, September 30, 2012
The story involving Pierre-Auguste Renoir's painting "Paysage Bords de Seine" (On the Shore of the Seine), bought at the Harpers Ferry Flea Market in Virginia, is starting to assume the form of a novel.
Last week, The Art Inquirer mentioned that the 5 1/2 x 9 in oil on linen napkin painting was going up for auction this September 29th at The Potomack Company. But unforeseen events have detemined its cancellation.
Washington Post reporter Ian Shapira, entered the library at the Baltimore Museum of Art and among the letters and artwork receipts from Baltimore arts patron, collector and important benefactor of the museum, Saidie Adler May, he found records showing that she had lent Renoir's to the museum in 1937. The discovery startled museum officials, who had already said the flea-market Renoir never entered their institution.
In the possession of the loan registration number, museum officials ended up discovering an even-more-astounding clue about the painting's journey. An old museum loan registration document revealed that the "Paysage Bords de Seine" was stolen on November 17, 1951, from the Baltimore Museum of Art — shortly after May’s death.
A copy of the original police report from 1951 was provided by the Baltimore police this last Friday.
Due to these unexpected events, the auction of the painting that had been acquired in 1926 by international lawyer Herbert L. May at the Gallerie Bernheim-Jeune in Paris and bought at a flea market over eight decades after, has been cancelled and now the FBI is investigating, while at the same time museum officials are trying to learn more about the painting’s theft and why they couldn’t explain why it does not appear on a worldwide registry of stolen and lost art.
The museum's Director Doreen Bolger has stated that the painting belongs in the BMA’s May Collection, but for Potomack Company’s President Elizabeth Wainstein, Herbert L. May is listed as the buyer by the French gallery where the piece was first sold, she’s not certain that Saidie May technically owned it.
According to Wainstein, the painting will remain at the auction house until the matter is settled.
These and other details may trigger a legal showdown over the painting's ownership and besides the already mentioned players (the Baltimore Museum of Art, The Potomack Company and the woman that inadvertently bought the painting together with a plastic cow and a Paul Bunyan doll at the flea market), one cannot forget about the company that insured the painting and paid a $2,500 claim for the stolen artwork.
According to Christopher A. Marinello, executive director and general counsel of the London-based Art Loss Register, the world’s largest private database of stolen and lost art, the rightful owner of "Paysage Bords de Seine" might be the company that insured the painting at the time of its disappearance. In the mid-20th century, most art insurers had policies stipulating that they were entitled to stolen artwork that was recovered and for which they’ve paid claims.
The Art Inquirer contacted The Potomack Company and received the following feedback:
"Bellow is our press release from Thursday that explains the situation. Since then, a police report of the theft from the Baltimore Museum of Art has surface. Potomack Commpany is fullly cooperatin with the FBI to help ascertain who has the clear title to this work of art.
RENOIR PAINTING PAYSAGE BORDS DE SEINE WITHDRAW FROM SEPTEMBER 29 AUICTION.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: SEPTEMBER 27, 2012
The Potomack Company announces the withdrawl of Pierre-Auguste Renoir's painting Paysage Bords de Seine from a planned sale on September 29 at the Potomack Company auction house after a question was raised by The Baltimore Museum of Art on Wednesday, September 26, about the ownership of the painting.
On July 27, 2012, a consignor brought a painting into The Potomack Company that she had bought at a flea market., and Potomack's fine art specialist, Anne Norton Craner, confirmed that it was a known Renoir painting titled Paysage Bords de Seine painted in the late 19th century.
The same day, July 27, 2012, Potomack Company promptly contacted Art Loss Register – a service that records and follows missing and stolen works of art - confirming that the painting had never been reported stolen or missing. Potomack also consulted the FBI’s art theft website to confirm that it was not listed as stolen by the FBI. Potomack researched the provenance of the painting, determining that it was a painting listed in Bernheim-Jeune’s Renoir catalogue raisonne and that the last record of the painting’s exhibition or sale was in Paris in 1926. The buyer was Herbert L. May, husband of Saidie May until their separation in 1924. Saidie May was an important donor of paintings and other objects to the Baltimore Museum of Art.
On September 6, Potomack issued a press release announcing the upcoming sale and explaining the mysterious provenance and discovery of the painting. The release was sent to major news organizations, to The Baltimore Museum of Art and to international Renoir specialists. Since the press release, there has been worldwide media coverage of the painting and the mystery of its whereabouts since 1926."
End of Quote.
As you can see, this story is far from over. Further developments will be reported as soon as they become available.
The Art Inquirer used Lynda Robinson and Magda Jean-Louis report at The Washington Post (Post Local) as a reference for this article.