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Stolen Renoir Headed Back to Baltimore Museum

(CN) - A stolen Renoir painting bought for $7 at a flea market must be returned to the Baltimore Museum of Art, a federal judge ruled.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir painted "Paysage Bord de Sein" on a linen napkin for his mistress while at a restaurant along the Seine River in 1879. Measuring 5-1/2-by-9-inches, the work depicts a river scene in pink, blue and green.

The Baltimore Museum of Art reported the piece stolen during a 1951 exhibition, and the resulting police report listed its worth as $2,500.

The painting resurfaced in 2009 when former physical education teacher Marcia Fuqua found it at a West Virginia flea market.

She bought the painting for $7, totally unaware of its true value until her mother urged her to get the painting appraised at Potomack Co., a Virginia auction house.

Potomack appraised the painting at $75,000 to $100,000.

Just days before the scheduled auction, the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) contacted the FBI to take the painting into custody.

Fuqua claimed that she was entitled to keep the painting because she was unaware when she bought it that it was stolen artwork.

U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema concluded last week in Alexandria, however, that the museum has full ownership rights to the work.

The museum's records and the police report together "offer overwhelming evidence in support of BMA's claim that the painting was stolen," according to the ruling.

Given this quantum of evidence, there can be no doubt that BMA has proved all it must under Virginia law, and that Fuqua cannot have good title as the possessor of a stolen work of art," Brinkema added.

Fuqua, on the other hand, "fails to offer a scintilla of evidence that the painting was not stolen from BMA," the ruling states.

In lieu of producing any evidence of her own, Fuqua's objections to BMA's evidence did not raise any legitimate doubt as to the authenticity of the museum's evidence, the 18-page judgment states.

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