After a woman unknowingly bought an apparent Renoir original at a flea market, the painting was set to rake in big money at auction. Unfortunately for the buyer, it turns out the painting may already have a rightful owner; the question is who. Either way, the auction has been canceled. Sleuthing by Washington Post reporter Ian Shapira revealed that the late Baltimore art collector Saidie May lent On the Shores of the Seine to the Baltimore Museum of Art in 1937. In 1951, it was stolen from the museum, a fact that current museum officials were unaware of.
And for some reason, it did not end up on a global registry of missing art. Now, the FBI is on the case, trying to figure out what happened to the work in the intervening years. Potential claimants include the museum, the flea-market purchaser, the insurance firm that covered the painting's theft in 1951 (for $2,500), and the Potomack auction house. Complicating the matter is the fact that Saidie May may not officially have been the painting's owner when she lent it to the museum. "We have to do more research and get to the bottom of the real story, and we’re still in the midst of that process," says the museum director. (Read more Baltimore stories.)