Virginia woman’s $7 junk-box find could be a Renoir


Talk about tag-sale treasure.

About a year and a half ago, a Shenandoah Valley, Va., woman bought a $7 box lot at a flea market. The box included a small oil painting, a Paul Bunyan doll and a plastic cow.

The woman told the Huffington Post she wasn’t really interested in the 5.5-by-9-inch painting with a frame bearing the name RENOIR. No, she wanted the doll and the toy cow. (She has requested anonymity, but gave her name to the Huffington Post as “Renoir Girl.”)

She did like the frame, though. When she began to take out the painting, her mother suggested that maybe she should get a second opinion before throwing away the artwork.

When she took it to the Potomack Co. auction house, specialist Anne Norton Craner told the Huffington Post, “She took it out of her plastic bag and it really looked like the real thing.”


“There was beautiful light,” Craner said. “It looked like a painting from 1879.”

Potomack later identified it as probably being French Impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s Paysage Bords de Seine and valued it at $75,000 to $100,000 for a Sept. 29 auction.

That sounds like a bargain. Some of Renoir’s works have sold for as much as $20 million. Last year, the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute of Williamstown, Mass., sold his Femme cueillant des Fleurs after giving it an asking price of $15 million.

His smaller landscapes, however, are relatively affordable by comparison. In 2007, Renoir’s Paysage avec personages sold for $200,940 after being valued between $98,500 and $137,900, according to a listing on Christie’s. That painting measures 9¼ x 8 1/8 inches.

You might ask how a painting by a master artist, carried in a frame with his name on it, made a century-long trek from the banks of the Seine in France to a box full of junk in Virginia.

Nobody knows.

According to the New York Times’ ArtsBeat blog, the painting was sold by the Bernheim-Jeune gallery in France in 1925 to the husband of a donor to the Baltimore Museum of Art. Little else is known.

The anonymous woman’s apparent find is serendipitous and crazy, but in no way unprecedented.

A few years ago, a 73-year-old foul-mouthed former trucker named Teri Horton paid $5 for a splatter painting in a San Bernardino thrift shop that she later believed to be a Jackson Pollock original worth $50 million. Horton’s quest to verify and sell the painting took her to the door of a possible forgery artist, brought a Saudi buyer willing to pay her $9 million and led to appearances on talk shows and a starring role in the documentary Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock? She turned down the $9 million, telling the New York Times, “Before I let them take advantage of me, I’ll burn that son of a [expletive].”

Renoir Girl has a different attitude, saying she doesn’t want to keep the painting.

“I’d be too scared,” she told the Huffington Post. “I’m sure that whoever buys it will treat it the way it deserves to be treated.”