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Renoir Found At Flea Market May Be Real, But It's Also Stolen

Turns out there's a bigger story behind the Renoir painting purchased for $7 a couple of years ago at a West Virginia flea market — a mystery, and an alleged theft, in fact.

A reporter from The Washington Post discovered evidence that the small painting — "Paysage Bords de Seine," or "Landscape on the Banks of the Seine" by French Impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir — was stolen from the Baltimore Museum of Art more than six decades ago.

Documents show that the museum had the painting — on loan from its owner, Baltimore art collector Saidie May — in its possession from 1937 until at least 1949. When May died in 1951, the painting was bequeathed to the museum. It vanished on Nov. 17, 1951.

The Renoir — which sat untouched in a box until its new owner's mother suggested she have it authenticated — was supposed to go on auction this weekend in Virginia. That event has been postponed, and the FBI is investigating.

So it looks like there may not be a lucrative ending to this story, as there was for a similar saga in North Carolina. Beth Feeback, an artist who specializes in cat portraits, was planning to paint over an abstract painting she bought at a Goodwill store for $9.99 — but her friends urged her to make sure it wasn't valuable. Turns out it was, and it fetched more than $27,000 at auction.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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