The 63-year-old saga of a small Renoir landscape painting reported stolen from the Baltimore Museum of Art in 1951 has come to a close, at least for now.
On Jan. 10, U.S. District Court Judge Leonie M. Brinkema 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 attempted sale of an 1879 unsigned oil painting on linen by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, titled the “Paysage Bords de Seine.”
Before Jan. 10, the owner of the painting was Martha Fuqua of Lovettsville in Loudoun County.
When the art piece came up for auction in 2012, the FBI seized the stolen Renoir, valued at $22,000, and began an investigation.
They discovered that Martha Fuqua’s mother, Marcia Fouquet of Great Falls, was an artist and had been an art student in Baltimore during the time that the painting was reported stolen. Marcia Fouquet died in September from cancer at the age of 85, court records state.
In court testimony, Martha Fuqua claims she purchased the painting for $7 at a Harper’s Ferry, W.Va., flea market in 2009, originally interested only in the frame and initially unaware that the painting was a Renoir. She claims to have kept the painting in her home until mid-2012 when she decided to sell it after discovering it was a Renoir. In court records, she claimed to be an “innocent owner,” a legal term meaning that she was innocent of any crime, and therefore her property in question should not be forfeited. 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.
In a Nov. 14 deposition, her brother Matt, also of Great Falls, contradicted his sister’s story that the painting had been in her Loudoun home from 2009 to 2012. The allegation came after his sister was charged in October with breaking into his girlfriend’s Great Falls apartment and stealing jewelry, antiques and furniture.
Matt Fuqua claims his girlfriend uncovered the painting in their mother’s home in 2011 and that his sister took possession of it then, fully aware of its provenance and potential value.
Court records also state that Matt Fuqua and his girlfriend both live on Marcia Fouquet’s former Great Falls property, now owned by Martha Fuqua, and that Martha Fuqua filed two lawsuits in November for unpaid back rent and to have them both evicted.
“The Baltimore Museum of Art is pleased that the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Virginia has awarded ownership of the stolen Renoir painting,” said spokeswoman Anne Mannix Brown. “Pending an appeal, we look forward to celebrating the painting’s homecoming with a special installation in the galleries in late March.” Brown said the museum has 46 other original Renoir works.
Attempts to contact Martha and Matt Fuqua were unsuccessful. Calls made to Martha Fuqua’s attorneys were also not immediately returned.