For a few months now, all we knew about the mysterious “Renoir Girl” was that she had stumbled upon a painting by the Impressionist Master in a $7 box of “junk” she bought at a West Virginia flea market. Now, thanks to some industrious sleuthing by the Washington Post, we know who she is — and that her story isn’t as clear-cut as it previously seemed.
Thanks to the court case determining who actually owns the painting (it was stolen from the BMA in the 1950s), Renoir Girl has been unmasked as Marcia “Martha” Fuqua, a former gym teacher who runs a driving school in rural Loudoun County. She’s also worked as a blackjack dealer in a West Virginia casino. Initial reports of the Renoir discovery painted her as just a lucky browser who happened to stumble on a pricey painting. “I have a layperson’s understanding of art,” she told investigators last year, according to the Post. ” I am not an art dealer or broker, art historian or art collector, and have no special education, training or experience which would give me expertise in the field of fine art or in particular, in the identification of authentic French Impressionistic works.”
But the now that Fuqua’s name has been revealed, the ace reporters at the Post (who have done a really killer job with this story, in an old-school newshound kind of way) discovered that she actually grew up in an artsy world — and that her mother is a painter specializing in reproducing Renoirs (!), as well as work by other famous artists. Fuqua’s mother, who confusingly goes by Marcia Fouquet, analyzed a Renoir portrait in her master’s thesis for MICA.
Fuqua’s case for owning the rights to the painting is that she is an “innocent owner” — in other words, that she couldn’t have known that the small painting she bought had historic or artistic value. (Then there’s a whole subplot with Fuqua’s brother, who seems legitimately nuts; read about that in the Post article.) Also mysterious: Fuqua can’t remember the name of the person who sold her the painting, or even the name of the flea market where she bought it. Though the Post is too reputable to speculate, commenters are already wondering whether Fuqua’s mother stole the painting in 1951, and that her daughter — who filed for bankruptcy a few years ago — concocted the flea market story to try and make a quick buck.
As things stand now, Fuqua thinks she rightfully owns the painting, while the BMA wants it returned to them. And in a final, sad twist, the painting — which was once estimated as being worth six-figures — actually has a fair-market price of about $22,000.
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