A small Pierre-Auguste Renoir painting, which was acquired at a flea market for $7 two years ago by its current owners and was consigned at auction, has recently been identified as an artwork stolen from the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) in 1951. The work disappeared while on loan to the museum under conditions that indicated foul play. While there is no known police report surrounding the theft and it is conspicuously absent from art loss registries, a journalist was able to identify the painting as the same work stolen from the museum 61 years ago while reviewing the BMA’s archival records.

Experts now predict that the BMA, the museum’s insurer, and the current owner of the work will all assert ownership of the Renoir picture in what are sure to be complicated legal proceedings. The BMA claims that had the painting not been stolen, it would have been bequeathed to the museum in Sadie May’s will at the same time that the rest of Ms. May’s collection was donated to the BMA. The insurance company asserts that since the BMA was indemnified for its loss following the theft, the company has essentially purchased the painting from the museum, and it now the rightful owner of the work. Meanwhile, the current owner, who attempted to sell the work at auction against an estimate of $75-100,000, argues that the painting was purchased in good faith and therefore, asserts legal title to the work.

Title insurance is a unique fine art insurance product that protects collectors against claims of bad title. It covers the legal fees to defend claims to good title in court, and indemnifies the collector for the value of the disputed work should a court not rule in the collector’s favor. In the case of the stolen Renoir, title insurance would cover the legal fees of the current owner and also indemnify the owner for the loss of the work in the event it is found to be the property of the BMA or the insurance company. It is an essential coverage for collectors who purchase works from risky markets, flea markets included. Please contact us to learn more about this unique coverage option.

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