Long Lost Renoir Masterpiece Found Among Junk at Flea Market

Melissa Knowles

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Don't we all just love a good deal? A woman in Virginia may have gotten the deal of a lifetime for under $50. The woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, had gone to a flea market over a year and a half ago. She purchased a box lot that contained a Paul Bunyan doll that she was interested in, but upon inspecting the contents of the box, she realized there was also a painting inside. She noticed that the painting had famous French impressionist artist Pierre Auguste Renoir's name on it and a gallery sticker on the back of the frame.

She took the painting and its frame in a white plastic bag to the Potomack Company, an auction house based in Alexandria, Va., to see if the painting was authentic. Anne Craner, Potomack's fine arts specialist and a former research associate at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, said she researched the river scene in the 5.5- x 9-inch picture and became convinced that it was a legitimate Renoir. Craner authenticated the Renoir as the "Paysage Bords de Seine," a landscape of the famous French river. The national gallery in Washington, D.C., agreed with Craner's assessment, and the masterpiece will be auctioned off at the end of the month.

The painting is estimated to be worth between $75,000 to $100,000 and bears Renoir's trademark brushstrokes and vibrant colors. Craner is not sure how the painting made its way to a flea market but was able to look it up in a catalog of Renoir's work. She concludes that the masterpiece was purchased from the Bernheim-Jeune gallery in France in 1925 and later sold to Herbert May, the husband of Sadie A. May. Sadie was a well-known collector in Maryland who donated many works to the Baltimore Museum of Art.

So who knows, your next flea market find could turn into your very own pot of gold. Happy hunting.