ALEXANDRIA, Virginia (AP) — A U.S. judge ruled Friday that a napkin-sized painting by French impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir should be returned to the Baltimore museum where it was stolen decades ago. A woman claimed she bought the painting at a flea market for $7.
Judge Leonie Brinkema rejected a claim of ownership from Marcia "Martha" Fuqua, who said she bought it at a flea market in West Virginia in 2009. The judge said there's overwhelming evidence that the painting was stolen from the Baltimore Museum of Art in 1951.
Fuqua, who was not at Friday's hearing, had planned to sell the painting in 2012 at auction, where it was expected to fetch at least $75,000. The sale was canceled after the museum said the painting was stolen, and the FBI then seized the painting.
Fuqua described herself as an "innocent buyer" and questioned the FBI's authority to seize the painting.
"Because I am not an art historian, collector, appraiser, or dealer, I lacked the expertise to identify the Renoir Painting's authenticity, origins or previous ownership history," she wrote.
According to an appraisal commissioned by the FBI, Renoir painted "Paysage bords de Seine," or "On the shore of the Seine," on a linen napkin in 1879 on the spot at a riverside restaurant for his mistress.
The appraiser said the Renoir's value is about $22,000, much less than the auction house estimated, because Renoir's paintings have fallen out of favor with some art collectors who consider them old-fashioned and because questions about the painting's ownership and possible theft diminish its value to collectors.