BALTIMORE (WJZ)–Paperwork is landing on a Virginia judge’s desk over who gets ownership of a stolen Renoir painting.

Alex DeMetrick reports it was taken from the Baltimore Museum of Art decades ago and allegedly resurfaced as a $7 flea market special.

At the center of it all is a very small painting of the French river Seine.  Pierre-Auguste Renoir painted it in 1879.

His painting came to Baltimore when collector Saidie May purchased it in the 1920s. She later loaned it to the Baltimore Museum of Art, where it was stolen in 1951.

It went missing until last year when Marcia Fuqua claimed she brought it at a West Virginia flea market.

“I noticed the frame on this picture, and I liked the frame, and I bid $7 and won the box,” Fuqua said.

Fuqua sent the painting to a Virginia auction house, but it is now being held by the FBI until a judge decides who the legal owner is: Fuqua  or the BMA, which wants it back in the Saidie May Collection.

“We know from her will she intended all her assets to come to the BMA,” said Anne Mannix-Brown, BMA communications director.

In its written motions, the BMA included a letter written by May to the museum in 1935, which states “The Modern Art Museum will be sending you very soon some very small paintings of mine, which I am willing to loan the museum indefinitely if you insure them.”

The letter listed the second painting as the Renoir now before the court.

That might seem clear-cut, but the painting was thrown into legal limbo when May died in 1951–six months before the painting was stolen.

“So her estate was still in probate, and we didn’t consider the painting an official part of the collection until it is settled by the courts . We know how she intended it to come to the BMA,” Mannix-Brown said.

The Virginia judge assigned this case will hear oral arguments in early January before deciding who gets ownership of the Renoir.

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