A woman who bought a $7 box lot at a flea market may have unwittingly scored an original painting by Pierre-August Renoir. An auction house believes the landscape to be Renoir’s “Paysage Bords de Seine,” which it values between $75,000 and $100,000.
The Shenandoah Valley resident, who wishes to remain anonymous, was drawn to the box for the Paul Bunyan doll and plastic cow included with the painting. “I’d never seen a Paul Bunyan doll before,” she told The Huffington Post in a phone conversation, identifying herself only as “Renoir Girl.”
She liked the painting’s frame too, she said, and planned to reuse it. After a year and a half of shuttling the small landscape and the box’s other remaining contents in a white trash bag between her garage, car and kitchen, she began the operation of removing it. It was after she’d ripped the backing paper off the frame that her mother advised her to verify the painting’s value before throwing it away, especially in light of the plaque with the name "Renoir" on the front.
“She took it out of her plastic bag and it really looked like the real thing,” said Anne Norton Craner, a specialist at Potomack Company, the Virginia auction house where the woman toted her find for a consultation. “There was beautiful light. It looked like a painting from 1879.”
Craner told The Huffington Post that she instinctively felt the painting to be an original Renoir. A label affixed to the painting's back -- which she describes as a "typical French dealer" label -- provided the artist's name and a title. Using the title, Craner was able to find a matching painting of the same name in Renoir’s catalogue raisonne, or comprehensive catalogue.
Further research at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. and confirmation by a Renoir expert satisfied Craner to where she says she's now certain of the painting's provenance. The frame that so charmed the painting's owner, Craner said is likely a period piece from the 1920s.
If Craner is correct, the painting arrived in the U.S. by way of Herbert May, a Renoir collector whose wife Sadie was a major benefactor to the Baltimore Museum of Art. May is the last known owner of “Paysage Bords de Seine,” which he purchased from the Bernheim-Jeune Gallery in Paris. It has not been seen since 1926. Craner told The New York Times she can’t say how it might have wound up in a Virginia flea market.
This painting’s owner told The Huffington Post she hasn’t entertained the thought of keeping it. “I’d be too scared,” she said. “I’m sure that whoever buys it will treat it the way it deserves to be treated.”
She said she hasn’t told anyone but press about its current status, not even her mother, whom she plans on treating with a trip to the Louvre if the auction proves fruitful.
“I’m just glad I didn’t sell it at one of my yard sales,” she said.