Katy Rothkopf: This is Pierre Auguste Renoir’s On the Shore of the Seine. And, though it’s quite small it has a wonderful, magical feeling of light, atmosphere and color.
Mollie Halpern: At 5-and-a-half-by-9 inches this Renoir oil on linen painting is small but the mystery behind its history is immense…
In 2012, the 1879 painting was brought to a Virginia auction house by a woman who purported she purchased it for seven dollars at a yard sale.
A reporter looking to cover how the painting became in her possession discovered this…a Baltimore City Police Department report showing the Renoir had been stolen from the Baltimore Museum of Art in 1951.
Special Agent Gregg Horner of the FBI’s Art Crime Team began investigating the art crime caper…
Gregg Horner: When something like that is stolen and not everybody can appreciate it I just think it’s a loss to all of us
Halpern: Horner’s investigation revealed additional evidence showing the painting’s provenance- including these photos of the Renoir installed in the apartment of art collector and philanthropist, Saidie May. May and her former husband had purchased the painting from a Paris gallery.
And, this documentation shows May bequeathed the artwork to the Baltimore Museum of Art upon her death in 1951. That same year, the museum of art displayed the painting as part of show on French art.
Katy Rothkopf: It was from that show that the painting was stolen in November of 1951.
Halpern: Katy Rothkopf the BMA’s senior curator of European painting and sculpture says the museum located its catalog card which notated the theft and provided it to Agent Horner.
After all that, the auction was canceled.
Gregg Horner: At that point, we had enough probable cause to seize the painting as stolen property. I obtained a seizure warrant and then we seized the painting.
Halpern: The investigation did not reveal who stole the Renoir off the museum’s wall but it did reveal the painting’s true owner. In 2014, citing the evidence, a judge granted a motion in favor of the Baltimore Museum of art.
Horner: When I can return a piece of art, an artifact of historic importance I just feel really good about it.
Rothkopf: It’s a painting that really fills a gap for us at the BMA we’ve got other works by Renoir but we don’t have any landscapes from this period . We’re thrilled to have it back and thrilled to have the assistance of the FBI in this amazing return.
Halpern: The Renoir, returned to the Baltimore Museum of Art after more than 60 years, is now on display in a special exhibition celebrating Saidie May. From Baltimore, I’m Mollie Halpern of the FBI.