WASHINGTON -- A woman who paid $7 for a box of trinkets at a West Virginia flea market two years ago apparently acquired an original painting by French impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir without knowing it.
The woman considered discarding the painting to salvage its frame, but instead made an appointment to have it evaluated in July by the Potomack Co. auction house in Alexandria, Va., said its fine arts director Anne Norton Craner.
When the woman pulled the painting out of a garbage bag she carried it in, Craner was nearly certain the painting was a Renoir with its distinct colors, light and brushwork. A plaque on the front labeled it "Renoir.''
"My gut said that it was right, but you have to then check,'' Craner said.
French handwriting on the back of the canvass included a label and number. Craner turned to the catalog by French gallery Bernheim-Jeune that's published all of Renoir's work.
"Lo and behold, it was in volume one,'' she said.
An image of the painting was published in black and white, and the gallery's stock number matched the flea market find. So Craner made a digital image of the flea market painting, converted it to black and white for a closer look, and the brush strokes also matched, she said.
"It's not a painting you would fake,'' Craner said. "If you're going to fake something, you'd fake something easier.''