Controversy has arisen surrounding the rightful owner of a unique original painting by Pierre-Auguste Renoir 'On the Shore of the Seine.” In an intriguing and somewhat unusual tale, a woman from Loudon County, Virginia claims to have purchased this work for $7 at a flea market. While Marcia ‘Martha’ Fuqua initially tried to remain anonymous, she has been forced to reveal her identity in court papers, as she attempts to fight for the painting, which she believes to be rightfully hers.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, "On the Shore of the Seine"

While Fuqua insists that she purchased this work with no knowledge of its authenticity or value, there are always two sides to a story. In this case, the other party, The Baltimore Museum of Art, claims that this work was stolen from them in 1951.  With reports of stolen property, the FBI has intervened and the decision as to who owns “On the Shore of the Seine” is now left in the hands of a federal judge in Alexandria.

Fuqua, who initially referred to herself as ‘Renoir Girl’ prior to releasing her true name, is a retired middle school physical education instructor who now runs a driving school from her home. While she first claimed to have “a layperson’s understanding of art,” it has now been revealed that her mother, Marcia Fouquet, is a practiced artist. Conflicting information from Fuqua’s family has led to further suspicion, as her brother Matt Fuqua supposedly claimed that their mother “had it [the painting] for a long time, probably 50 or 60 years.” Upon further speculation, he revoked this statement, claiming someone posing as him had answered the phone and “has been arrested.”

Fuqua had placed the painting on sale with The Potomack Company, who verified its authenticity with Bernheim-Jeune, Paris. Excitement was building and Fuqua was told she could retrieve six figures for the sale of this work, when paperwork was uncovered at the Baltimore Museum of Art stating that the exact painting had been lent to the museum in 1937 by then-owner Saidie May. Further paperwork revealed that the painting was stolen from the museum on November 17, 1951.  Upon unraveling this information, the FBI immediately seized the work.  The FBI’s investigation is still pending and a verdict has yet to be reached. Interestingly, if Fuqua were to come out victorious, an updated appraisal on this painting now places its value at around $22,000 – nowhere near the six-figure payday that Fuqua was expecting.

Information derived from:

Shapira, Ian. “’Renoir Girl’ Unmasked as Loudoun County’s Marcia ‘Martha’ Fuqua.” The Washington Post, April 4, 2013.