Picture this – you’re walking around a flea market in West Virginia, just minding your own business, when all of a sudden, a piece catches your eye. It’s about the size of a napkin, no bigger, and reminiscent of those French impressionists you studied back in school. Flicks of red and pink on a canvas largely made up of greens and deep blues, white in the background. It’s beautiful, and emotionally evocative, and you ask how much it’s worth, more out of curiosity than anything. The saleswoman tells you she’s been trying to get rid of it for years, and you can have it. For 7$. So you take it.
That’s exactly what happened to Marcia Fuqua, who was none the wiser when she purchased the now-infamous 7$ Renoir painting in 2009. In fact, sources say Fuqua kept the masterpiece in a garbage bag for two years, locked away in storage, before curiosity got the best of her and she decided to have it authenticated. You can image her surprise when she found out it was an original Renoir and, like most, she decided she would auction it off to some art aficionados who would pay her big bucks for her serendipitous find.
However, when Fuqua went public with her red-hot auction piece, the Baltimore Museum of Art declared Fuqua’s painting had been stolen from their museum back in 1951. The age-old “finders keepers” idiom just wasn’t gonna cut it as a defense for Fuqua, and now the FBI has seized the 7$ Renoir. According to their art experts, Renoir painted the Seine on a napkin in 1879 for his mistress.
The hullabaloo surrounding the 7$ Renoir is all well and good, but perhaps it’s indicative of something more. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll notice that art has been slowly reclaiming its rightful throne in popular culture. Everyone who’s anyone in the public eye has been championing for Art, capitol A, from Jay-Z rapping about Picasso, Rothko, Basquiat and Warhol, to George Clooney’s Monuments Men, a film dedicated to the saving and preservation of great works during WWII.
This return to beauty, aesthetic, and ultimately to art, is a welcome one, and no matter what happens with the $7 Renoir, the fact that people all over the world are compelled and dazzled by the story is a wonderful thing for artists everywhere.