The Potomack Company Gives Its Version of Events in the Stolen Renoir Story

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All the world was atwitter last month when it a Baltimore native’s $7 flea market find turned out to be a Renoir.  Now we learn that it is perhaps a stolen Renoir and an FBI investigation is on.

One of our faithful readers forwarded to us the email, below, sent by the Potomack Company, the Virginia-based auction house that had planned to sell the painting over the weekend, to all subscribers to its email blasts. 

We’ll let you know what comes next…

RENOIR PAINTING PAYSAGE BORDS DE SEINE WITHDRAWN FROM SEPTEMBER 29 AUCTION

The Potomack Company announces the withdrawal of Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s painting Paysage Bords de Seine from a planned sale on September 29 at the Potomack Company auction house after a question was raised by The Baltimore Museum of Art on Wednesday, September 26, about the ownership of the painting.

Background:
On July 27, 2012, a consignor brought a painting into The Potomack Company that she had bought at a flea market, and Potomack’s fine art specialist, Anne Norton Craner, confirmed that it was a known Renoir painting titled Paysage Bords de Seine painted in the late 19th century.

The same day, July 27, 2012, Potomack Company promptly contacted Art Loss Register – a service that records and follows missing and stolen works of art – confirming that the painting had never been reported stolen or missing. Potomack also consulted the FBI’s art theft website to confirm that it was not listed as stolen by the FBI. Potomack researched the provenance of the painting, determining that it was a painting listed in Bernheim-Jeune’s Renoir catalogue raisonne and that the last record of the painting’s exhibition or sale was in Paris in 1926. The buyer was Herbert L. May, husband of Saidie May until their separation in 1924. Saidie May was an important donor of paintings and other objects to the Baltimore Museum of Art.

On September 6, Potomack issued a press release announcing the upcoming sale and explaining the mysterious provenance and discovery of the painting. The release was sent to major news organizations, to The Baltimore Museum of Art and to international Renoir specialists. Since the press release, there has been worldwide media coverage of the painting and the mystery of its whereabouts since 1926.

Washington Post reporter Ian Shapira undertook a probing investigation into the whereabouts of the painting since 1926. While doing research in the Museum’s library archives on Tuesday, September 25, Shapira discovered a list of paintings from Saidie A. May on loan to the Museum from 1937 that included the Renoir painting. After Shapira notified Museum officials of his finding, they did an internal investigation of their art collection files and found a loan record indicating that the Renoir painting was stolen in 1951.

On Wednesday, September 26, 2012, the Museum called and advised Potomack that they had a record indicating the painting was stolen while on loan to the Museum in 1951, although there is no known police report. Elizabeth Wainstein, owner of The Potomack Company, immediately notified the Federal Bureau of Investigation of this development that afternoon. A federal investigation is now in progress.

Decision to Withdraw the Painting:
At this time, many questions remain about the fate of the painting after it was loaned to the museum in 1937 and the ownership of the painting then and now. Given these questions, Potomack and the consignor have decided to withdraw the painting from the September 29 sale until any questions about its ownership are resolved.

“Potomack is relieved this came to light in a timely manner as we do not want to sell any item without clear title,” said Elizabeth Wainstein. “Our objective in conducting a sale is always to ensure fairness and finality both for the consignor and for the buying public. Postponing the sale of the Renoir painting is the best way of achieving that objective in this case.”



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2 COMMENTS

  1. “Potomack researched the provenance of the painting, determining that it was a painting listed in Bernheim-Jeune’s Renoir catalogue raisonne and that the last record of the painting’s exhibition or sale was in Paris in 1926. The buyer was Herbert L. May, husband of Saidie May until their separation in 1924. Saidie May was an important donor of paintings and other objects to the Baltimore Museum of Art.”

    Is this saying that after the auction house found out that the painting had been bought by Mr. May in 1926? If that is the case, then Potomack Company should have known there was a big collection (and wing) at the Baltimore Museum of Art under the name of Mrs. Herbert May or Sadie May. The fact is, the auction house claims they did their due diligence but they didn’t. The “probe” by Ian Shapira found the “mystery” of the Renoir painting because he did what Potomack Company didn’t. There is something very fishy about this whole thing. If Potomack Company, as they claim, are fine art experts they should have worked harder to find out about the Renoir.

    A few years ago there were some urns that Potomack Company was going to auction off. They simply told the Army Corps of Engineers that the urns were up for auction but did not offer them any way of getting them back. Ms. Wainstein’s comment was that she would auction them off because they would then belong to the “highest bidder”. Only when the ACE got involved did Ms Wainstein stop the auction and give them back to the ACE. She took all sorts of credit for stopping the auction of the urns AFTER the ACE went and spoke to her about the sale.

    What this shows is that the Potowmack Company will do anything for press and sell anything (including a stolen Renoir and Arlington Nat’l Cemetery urns) to the highest bidder without doing the proper due diligence. This should raise the question about the ethical practices of this company.

  2. Pipp… were the urns from the army corps of engineers or arlington national cemetary? they’re pretty different things, and not very connected.

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