Woman ‘who bought Renoir for $7 at flea market’ faces FBI investigation as it emerges painting was stolen from a museum in 1951

April 7, 2013 3:34 pm 1 comment Views: 25619

A Virginia woman claiming to have purchased Renoir painting for $7 at a flea market has been unmasked and is now under FBI investigation after it emerged the painting was stolen in 1951.

Marcia ‘Martha’ Fuqua from Loudon County, Virginia, had tried to remain anonymous and said she purchased the painting simply for its frame and had no special ‘understanding of art.’

But it has now emerged that the painting ‘On the Shore of The Seine’ was reported stolen from the Baltimore Museum of Art in 1951, according to the Washington Post.

The FBI seized the painting late last year after learning that information and it has since emerged that Fuqua’s mother was a painter who specialised in reproducing the work of several artists including Renoir.

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Owner? Marcia ‘Martha’ Fuqua, seen left in 2010 while learning how to become a blackjack dealer in Washington, says she bought a painting by Renoir at a flea market in late 2009 for $7

‘The painting was last seen hanging at the museum in 1951,’ the Baltimore Museum of Art’s Director Doreen Bolger tellsWJZ of the historical item the museum is working with the FBI to get back.

It was gifted to the museum after its purchase from a Baltimore art collector in the 1920s. A few decades later, it vanished she said, only to appear in the hands of Fuqua at auction last year.

After the auction house was contacted by a Washington Post reporter who revealed the piece’s theft, the FBI stepped in, immediately removing the painting from Fuqua’s possession.

In a letter to the agency in December, Fuqua – who runs a driving school and is a retired physical education teacher  – declared her innocence while demanding its return to her.

‘I have a layperson’s understanding of art,’ she said in her letter obtained by the Post.

Stolen: In 1951 the Baltimore Museum of Art reported this painting, On the Shore of the Seine, stolen with the FBI seizing it just days before it was to be sold at auction late last yearStolen: In 1951 the Baltimore Museum of Art reported this painting, On the Shore of the Seine, stolen with the FBI seizing it just days before it was to be sold at auction late last year

‘I am not an art dealer or broker, art historian or art collector, and have no special education, training or experience which would give me expertise in the field of fine art or in particular, in the identification of authentic French Impressionistic works,’ she wrote.

‘I am not an art dealer or broker, art historian or art collector, and have no special education, training or experience which would give me expertise in the field of fine art’

- ‘Martha’ Fuqua‘s letter to the FBI

But her null experience in art doesn’t appear to be entirely true, according to the Post.

Until now Ms Fuqua’s name was hidden from the public – she referred to herself only as ‘Renoir Girl’ in a September interview.

Fuqua’s mother graduated Goucher College with a degree in fine art, before in 1957 receiving a master’s degree from the Maryland Institute College of Art.

She then opened up an art school which her daughter for a time helped her run, the Post reports.

Fuqua’s professional background consists of having taught middle school physical education and working as a casino blackjack dealer, according to the Post.

Adding an unexpected twist, a man who identified himself as Fuqua’s brother, Matt Fuqua, later told the Post that the painting’s origin may not have been all his sister said.

‘[My mother has] had it for a long time, probably 50 or 60 years,’ he said of the painting

Fight: The museum, pictured, hopes the painting will be returned but Fuqua insists that it is hers and purchased without knowing its true value or having any special art knowledgeFight: The museum, pictured, hopes the painting will be returned but Fuqua insists that it is hers and purchased without knowing its true value or having any special art knowledge

‘My girlfriend and her friends were cleaning out my mom’s studio, and my sister stepped in and said, “Wow, I want this.” All I know is my sister didn’t just go buy it at a flea market. . . . My sister kind of snagged it out of my mom’s art studio.’

He added that his mother and sister ‘are keeping me out of the loop. It was supposed to be mine.’

‘All I know is my sister didn’t just go buy it at a flea market. . . . My sister kind of snagged it out of my mom’s art studio’

- man claiming to be Fuqua’s brother

The man later retracted what he told the Post, saying he doesn’t ‘know the facts.’

After a third phone call he told the Post that someone posing as him had answered the phone. He said that person has since been arrested.

In Fuqua’s September interview she told the Post, ‘It’s all very coincidental … I am one of those people that believes that things happen for a reason.’

‘I noticed the frame on this picture and I liked the frame. I bid $7 and I won the box,’ she said.

Though the frame boldly shows a center plaque reading RENOIR on it, she said she never thought that it would be authentic, it having been found in a box at a flea market after all.

She said she stored it in a plastic trash bag for two years, even in a shed at one point, before having it authenticated as a genuine Renoir.

Bolger hopes that however the FBI’s investigation ends, it will with the painting’s return to the museum.

‘A number of people have submitted or individuals or organizations have submitted pleadings regarding it and the court will make a decision,’ she said.

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