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W.Va. flea market’s business up after Renoir discovery

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Even though the Renoir painting bought for $7 at a Harpers Ferry flea market is possibly stolen it still brought more visitors to market.

Ron Nowell, co-owner of the Harpers Ferry Flea Market on U.S. 340, said the art selection was picked clean days after news broke earlier this month.

"Evidently everyone's interested in Renoir now," Nowell said. "My two days on the market last week I walked through and about 75 percent of the paintings were gone.

"People expecting lightning to strike twice, I guess, but that was a one in a million."

A Virginia woman, who remains anonymous, bought the painting two years ago in a box of junk at Nowell's market. She liked a plastic cow in the box and the heavy frame surrounding the colorful impressionist painting. Even though a plaque on the frame said "Renoir" the woman thought it was a fake.

She handed over the $7 for the box and chucked it into a shed until this year when she ran into trouble trying to get the painting out of the frame. She took it to Potomack, an auction house in Alexandria, Va., for help with the painting.

It was there, according to the Washington Post, the painting was found not to be a fake, but the bona fide work of Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

The painting titled "Paysage Bords de Seine," featuring swirling pink and purple flowers on the banks of the Seine River was to be put up for auction this weekend. Appraisers expected it would bring in more than $100,000.

That sale is now being postponed while FBI officials work to determine how the painting found its way to a flea market in West Virginia 60 years after being lifted from the Baltimore Museum of Art in 1951.

A Washington Post reporter discovered the painting was stolen when he found documents in the museum's library proving they had the painting from 1937 until it was stolen in 1951.

Nowell had not heard the painting was stolen until a Daily Mail reporter contacted him Thursday evening. When asked if he had any idea how the painting came to the flea market he responded it likely had been "passing through auction houses and flea markets."

Dan Barnett, who also co-owns the flea market, said it was his understanding the vendor who sold the painting in the box of junk bought it at an auction. He was not sure at which auction house the man bought the painting.

"We thought it was good," Barnett said of hearing of the famous find at their market. "Now, after hearing about this, maybe not."

Barnett said the flea market has had Super Bowl rings come through in the past. Nowell pointed out none of those rings were stolen and one was missing a diamond.

Contact writer Ashley B. Craig at or 304-348-4850.


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