Insurance Law

Museum seeks dismissal of woman's claim to stolen Renoir

The Baltimore Museum of Art is asking a federal judge to dismiss a Virginia woman’s claim to a tiny Renoir painting she says she bought in a “box of junk” at a flea market in 2009 for $7.

The museum, in a motion for summary judgment Tuesday, says the 1879 oil painting was stolen from another museum in 1951, the Baltimore Sun reports.

Included in the motion is a copy of a 1935 letter from Baltimore art collector Saidie A. May offering to lend the painting indefinitely to a local museum, known as the Polk Gallery, if the museum agreed to insure it. The painting vanished from the Polk Gallery in November 1951. May, who died that same year, bequeathed her entire art collection, including the Renoir, to the Baltimore Museum of Art, the motion says.

The painting resurfaced last year when Marcia Fuqua, 51, of Lovettsville, Va., tried to put it up for auction. Fuqua said she bought a box of odds and ends, which included the painting, for $7 at a flea market in 2009.

The day before the scheduled auction, the Baltimore museum filed suit to block the sale. The FBI seized the painting, which has been valued at between $75,000 and $100,000, until the dispute over its rightful owner is resolved. Fireman’s Fund Insurance Co., which had paid the Baltimore Museum of Art $2,500 after the theft, appeared at first to have a claim on the painting, but it transferred its potential rights to the museum last month.

In its motion, the museum doesn’t dispute Fuqua’s account of how she came to acquire the painting. But even if she purchased it a a flea market without knowledge of its authorship or title, it says, her claim must fail as a matter of law because the painting was stolen.

Fuqua’s attorney, T. Wayne Biggs, declined to comment on the motion, though he is expected to file a formal response before the end of the month.

Federal judge Leonie M. Brinkema has scheduled arguments on the motion for Jan. 10.

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