Flea Market Renoir Reignites Family’s Feud with BMA

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The story of the flea market Renoir — the small painting by the Impressionist master that was bought at a West Virginia flea market for $7 — at first seemed so happy, like something out of a romantic comedy. But of course, things are much more complicated than that… and it seems that the discovery that the painting was stolen from the Baltimore Museum of Art has re-opened all sorts of old wounds, including tales of filched Rembrandts and a Goucher College dean’s thefts from the BMA. It’s also reignited the feud between heiress/art collector/BMA benefactor Saidie May and her major benefactee, the Baltimore Museum of Art.

The Washington Post, which has been doing some stellar reporting on the case (including uncovering the fact that the Renoir in question once belonged to the BMA), reports that May’s descendants are quite angry about how the museum has treated her collection.

The Adler family thinks that the BMA isn’t stringent enough with security (they didn’t know until recently that other Adler family donations had been stolen), and that not enough of their donations are on display. The BMA says that they’ve ramped up security, and that they can only exhibit so much of what’s donated to their collections.

As a conciliatory move, the BMA plans to dust off more of May’s donations to put on display starting this week. The ins and outs of the case are clearly complicated, but I have to admit that I trust BMA director Doreen Bolger pretty much by default — she’s a cool lady. Bolger told the Post that May’s art was given to the museum without restrictions, and with the understanding that BMA staff would be able to choose what to display where (and when). But that sort of even-handed response hasn’t satisfied May’s family, some members of which have ordered specially-printed tee shirts featuring an image of the stolen Renoir and the words How Did I End Up At A Flea Market?

There’s plenty more art world gossip — including the stuff about the Rembrandt prints stolen by the Goucher dean — in the Post story; read the rest of it here.

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