Category Archives: #RenoirReturns

She Poses for Moses, Erroneously (with apologies to Mr. Kelly and Mr. O’Conner), the final pages…

Painting by Pierre Auguste Renoir, On the Shore of the Seine, with man's hand and magnifying glass in foreground.

Pierre Auguste Renoir. On the Shore of the Seine. c. 1879. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Saidie A. May Bequest, Courtesy of the Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company, BMA 2014.1

In March, acclaimed Baltimore-based writer and producer David Simon (The Wire) started She Poses for Moses, Erroneously (with apologies to Mr. Kelly and Mr. O’Conner) – the first continuing story in our Renoir Returns story challenge. Now we return to the beginning of that tale, to see how it unfolded. Below, read the story as it played out from the beginning, with thanks to the multiple authors who contributed to it.

By David Simon
Nine months of loose-fitting robes and girlish misdirection were coming to a head, right here, at the low tide of morning.

“Hey,” said the princess to the most trusted handmaiden,  ”what’s that over by those white flowers.”

“It looks like a basket,” said her servant, dry as dirt.

“I wonder what’s in it?”

An infant’s cry answered, as if in reply.  Or, maybe, that was laughter.

By Peter O’Connor
The bulrushes rustled; the maiden tiptoed closer.

Newborns lay mewing, their eyes shut.

“Wolves!” she gasped.

The princess paused from washing off the mud to pull back the rushes.

“Coyotes,” she corrected, “My brother was raised by wolves. I recognize a coyote cry from a wolf any day.”

The handmaiden whispered, as to not startle, “Remember, a pirate wears a sombrero and does not lose his glasses. A man’s heart will pine until one gives him a swift kick in the ass to find his heart’s true deseo.” Her astronomy with animal totem beliefs became a quilt for Frida Kahlo’s memory.

By Ken James Guessen
Mauve shadows paint their faces.

Monet tells of her last days. Renoir interrupts. Degas squints, listening to the memory as if it were his own.
***
“Relax your arms like a ballerina.”

She’s goes under. He dives, surfaces.

“Aline!”

Tracing the rope to her waist, he lifts.

She arrives coughing, choking.

“A…line! You must learn to swim.”

“Get this off me!”

“La corda salvato la vita.”

“The rope was just long enough to hang me.”
***
The next morning he taps his razor. His reflection, an echo, his eyes reminiscing.

“I punched a hole in the wall,” he tells her.
***
Laughter erupts. Monet leaves abruptly.

By Jan Ryan
He stares down at the shore. He saved her, hoisted the carcass from the depths. The fabulous creature laughed at him, at all of them. The rest laughed too as if they understood erasure by water, mockingly floating a bubble up to the distant vague ship. How could she prefer to be hidden/lost/gone from them? Were we imbued to crave beauty only to deprive us… was creation not our assigned mission? Could one greedy, selfish lover, an ocean, incinerator, fireplace or thief be allowed to kidnap her?

By Jan Ryan
These kleptomaniacs would steal candles from a church. He pointed and she pocketed. With the ruckus behind the plants (Remus and Romulus basket kidnapping) you may wonder how anyone witnessed anything but I had a higher vantage point.

Newspapers were spread open across the carpet. They LOVED the publicity. They read the news coverage out loud to each other every day. Things were calm with Saidie May and the young lady but forget any peace with these basket cases. They were your feral children.

By Jan Ryan
Each day with no buyer, after optimism based on the serendipity that scored the Renoir, created a little more doubt as to how to escape from a Baziotes cocoon. If they could only sell the Renoir they could move to New York or putter in a propeller basket to the Caribbean. They read the Real Estate section, picking out an apartment that sold before they had the money to buy it, and the travel section, selecting their tropical island. Semi-consciously they floated, descending, through clouds.

By Jan Ryan
Picasso wasn’t in Mallorca in 1931 if that’s what you are thinking. He was up the coast in Southern France illustrating a Balzac story about a perfectionist artist who kills himself after being ridiculed by young artists.

When tourists assumed her paintings were no good Saidie May was ready to kill too.

“Don’t blab that you collect art. They will rob you.” warned the artistic sister.

The family never heard the details of Saidie’s trip but when the robbery happened much later they wondered.

By Jan Ryan
The thieves made contact. He explained that he was in the market for lesser-known artists like The Painter’s Window. He wanted it but a stolen Renoir from a museum? Too hot. “Not going to touch it but try this guy, he’s an idiot,” and “this guy” was an idiot. He bargained with all the same reasons to not buy then paid cash and disappeared.

They were dealt a better hand. The thieves dyed their hair brown, left their whole stolen collection in Baltimore, went by new names and never returned.

By Jan Ryan

“Did you seek protection? Couldn’t you find the museum or the May apartment?” berates the Interrogator.
“Do you understand simile?” she retorts, “Like a plant, someone has to move me.”
“… throw out some seeds or fall into a visitor’s lap?” the questioning continues.
“After I left the museum no one drew, photographed, no more art history analysis, no X-rays or Internet. There were dire consequences were they to admit they had me. Outside we could be chased through a land of video cameras.”

By Jan Ryan
He sacrificed much of the children’s tuition and his wife’s precious roasts for the Renoir for which the thieves considered him an idiot. He HAD TO bargain: How much cash did they think he could account for? He hated doing business with amateurs and their “buyer” was so condescending. He loved what he loved and he loved the Renoir. If you can’t see why you would have been nothing to him.

In a fit of nerves his wife gave the Renoir to the maid.

By Jan Ryan
The maid knew what “this guy” was all about. Research at the museum and libraries made her think the painting was real. There was no way to know for sure. She told her kids it was a copy of a corner of a real Renoir. They took crayons to paper to make their own replicas, thereby, in the maid’s opinion, leaving a trail. Uneasily she wiped it clean of fingerprints figuring otherwise her great grandkids would get themselves into trouble selling it thinking they were trying to pass it off as real.

By Jan Ryan
I would be happy to return to the museum with the school kids piping up with comments, the stoned teenagers dully saying, “Cool.Renoir,” the adults telling wise tales that aren’t true, the quiet ones (mysteries they are thinking) and intimidated visitors finally blurting out, “I like THIS one.” Thanks! What’s not to like? They all liked me but there was nothing to do but look at me so they looked and looked and I looked back.

This is the final post for She Poses for Moses. The Renoir Returns exhibition is on display in the Museum until 20 July 2014. Examine all the evidence in the Renoir Returns Flickr group, and visit the BMA to see the all the works of art shown in this story in person.

Contours of a Thief, the final pages…

Renoir magnifying glass on name

In April, Baltimore author Justin Sirois (So Say the Waiters) provided the opening text for Contours of a Thief - story two in our Renoir Returns story challenge. Now we return to the start of that story, to see how it unfolded. Below, read the story as it played out from the beginning, with thanks to the multiple authors who contributed to it. Now, we are seeking a final chapter, to pull the story together. 

By Justin Sirois
For thirty-eight years of its secret life, the painting hung in her study, above the hearth that was never lit—sitting there waiting for her cat’s tail dust the frame’s intricate cursive. The study door was always locked. No guests allowed. No husband around. There was a desk and hundreds of books on bookshelves and an austere, but hand-me-down leather chair for reading in. Curtains blocked nearly all daylight.

She, the bandit, would sip tea and stare beyond the painting’s warm foliage. How the gesture of breeze transported her. Prisms of pastel smeared beyond Eden. Men and women walked along the shoreline. Basking and kissing. The bandit sipped and reached into her pocket with her free hand, fingering the study door’s key. She slid the key out and brought her fingers to her lips, kissing the back of her hand.

The cat curled around her ankle—dusting her off too. The painting hummed colorful. Sang inside the study. It was, in a way, a prison. A secret that could only be enjoyed when she fantasied about telling it. The people in the painting walked away.

By Jan Ryan
Honestly, you didn’t protect me well. You let me go out with anyone, the sick woman, anyone, acting like it would be a wonderful experience for me. The patriarch said I was the best thing that ever happened to them. And then I was with them. They were my people. How were you to know that the prettiest one would end up alone and impoverished, discarded in a box of knickknacks at a flea market? Well let me assure you I witnessed plenty of secret adventures before I became too much of a liability.

By Gabriella Russo
I remember the night that bandit came into the apartment, stealthily creeping among the Saints first and then making her way to me. She overlooked the beauty in the intricacy of their portraits and focused in on the vivid, beautiful brushstrokes in my foreground. She looked at me with envy, as if she wished she could be engrossed in my very canvas and that is when she stripped me from my home, carefully tip toeing out of Miss May’s apartment.

By Julia Fountain
The thieves will get their money, just as they always do. The police want to protect the people, but not the artist, nor their art.
135 years later pieces will hang on the cluttered walls of museums, boasting names of the histories renowned artists. Millions of eyes will trace the various strokes and contours, but little do they know that beneath the varnish and oil may simply be a rendition, a mere copy of an original.
The art is still being appreciated, the legacy sustained; no one got hurt.

By Jan Ryan
Yeah, Saidie May would fondly remember her time drinking in Mallorca and her family’s blind eye to it, making and collecting art. No one knew anything she didn’t tell him or her. If she told them how would she remember? How would they remember? Juan Gris’s Bottle and Glass painting could have reminded her of men’s smoky Spanish chats in that independent period in her life but were the spillage tremors an earthquake or a reaction to really good wine? At home wine tasted like a chemical brew.

By Jan Ryan
There is only an appearance of too little. Everything fits together simply. Some of the paintings are needlessly complicated. Black, white and primary colors. They fit. They do it all the time but no one has to create disorder. Timing matters.

The idiot had me restored. That means dirty original paint was removed and repainted. Won’t future generations love that. Makes my reds boil but that is individualism.

By Jan Ryan
Maybe you can paint. Maybe you can’t paint but Saidie May could paint. This is one of her landscapes.
For decades the May family repeated that the theft goes back to 1930s Mallorca. Family members visited the Mediterranean many times with one eye watching for the painting. Rooms were unlocked and cellars searched on a hunch. As soon as a guest named May checked into a hotel word went out, “Hide the painting!” not that anyone had any idea who had it.

By Jan Ryan
The children knew that their father had done something terrible and that their mother had also done something terrible to keep the family together. With teenage friends they pieced together that their father had probably had an affair, a serious affair, with an expensive prostitute who gave him that small painting as a celebration of their love and that he had had the nerve to hang it behind a secret panel in his man cave library and that their mother had gotten away with killing the woman.

The maid was living with a grown child in Virginia. She found a cleaning job to put some cash in her pocket. She had a feeling the Renoir belonged in the master bedroom so bracing for a lecture on how lowbrow her taste in art was she hung it there. The woman she cleaned for dropped her towel when she saw it. Never one to pause and think she said, “Holy sh*t. WTF. How? I suppose you want money.” It was not the response the maid expected but she nodded. Wahoo! The grandkids were going to college.

I don’t know where the he-maniac went or why the she-maniac bought me back. A grown daughter eventually pretended she was returning Nazi looted art. Couldn’t anyone leave me in a bathroom or closet at the museum? Video cameras. Bag searches. They help and they hurt. I will now probably be hanging for centuries at the museum like a vampire bat. All we have are our adventures. If there is ever an opportunity to loan me out, descendants of those barflies in Majorca have been expecting to see me.

Stealing History

FBI's Most Wanted Art TheftsWere the hands that lifted the Renoir painting off of the Museum’s walls shaking? Or were they steady, swiftly raising the small landscape off of a hook without hesitation?

Was it a woman? Did she uncouthly slip the painting under her skirt—maybe into a pocket within her bulky crinoline made for just such an occasion? Or did she gently tuck it into her coat’s fashionable large balloon sleeve?

And was the Renoir her first choice? Or just a consolation prize when the intended loot was too difficult to take?

We may never know the answers to these questions now that the FBI has officially closed its investigation, but what we do know, thanks to an FBI video, is how the agency determined the painting’s provenance and rightful owner.

Special Agent Gregg Horner interviewed is one of 14 FBI special agents who investigate art thefts throughout the world. Created in 2004 partly because of looting in Iraq’s Baghdad Museum, his team knows all too well:

  • The US is the preferred place among criminals to sell stolen art;
  • Billions of dollars of art go missing every year;
  • Art theft is one of the highest grossing criminal trades in the US, following only drugs and arms; and
  • Fundamentalist terror groups rely on looted antiquities as a major source of funding.

So that’s why you should care. But what can you do about it?

  •  If you’re looking to buy antiques or art work, only buy from reputable dealers and auction houses who have researched the chain of ownership and who will guarantee that the artwork has not been stolen.
  • Help spread the word about thefts, leads, and recovery efforts.
  • Stop by the temporary entrance after seeing The Renoir Returns (closing July 20) to read about the top ten works of art still missing from museums around the world.
  • And last but not least, help protect and display Baltimore’s great treasures by becoming a BMA member. Your membership matters.

 

 

Exhibit L: Renoir Police Report

Renoir Police Report

Renoir Police Report

This is the final piece for She Poses for Moses, one of two stories in the Renoir Returns Story Challenge that have taken us on a journey inspired by weekly “evidence” inspired by the purloined painting.

I would be happy to return to the museum with the school kids piping up with comments, the stoned teenagers dully saying, “Cool.Renoir,” the adults telling wise tales that aren’t true, the quiet ones (mysteries they are thinking) and intimidated visitors finally blurting out, “I like THIS one.” Thanks! What’s not to like? They all liked me but there was nothing to do but look at me so they looked and looked and I looked back.

Exhibit K: Theo van Doesburg. Interior. 1919.

Theo van Doesburg. Interior. 1919.

Theo van Doesburg. Interior. 1919. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Bequest of Saidie A. May, BMA 1951.292

Theo van Doesburg was a founding member of the Dutch art movement De Stijl (The Style), formed in 1917. The group, which included artist Piet Mondrian, sought to express ideal spiritual harmony by radically simplifying form and color. This idea led to compositions based exclusively on vertical and horizontal elements and a palette limited to the three primary colors, as well as black and white. “Interior” appears more relaxed and painterly than many De Stijl works, and includes diagonals and curves, as well as strong earth tones. These features have led some scholars to date the work earlier than its 1919 inscription (which would place it in the period just prior to the self-imposed restrictions of full-fledged De Stijl).

“Interior” is one of only two works of the important De Stijl movement in the BMA’s holdings. Both were purchased by Saidie May in the late 1940s, proving her foresight as a collector of modernism.

The maid knew what “this guy” was all about. Research at the museum and libraries made her think the painting was real. There was no way to know for sure. She told her kids it was a copy of a corner of a real Renoir. They took crayons to paper to make their own replicas, thereby, in the maid’s opinion, leaving a trail. Uneasily she wiped it clean of fingerprints figuring otherwise her great grandkids would get themselves into trouble selling it thinking they were trying to pass it off as real.

Exhibit 6: Saidie A. May. Landscape with Cypress Trees. n.d.

Saidie A. May. Landscape with Cypress Trees. n.d.

Saidie A. May. Landscape with Cypress Trees. n.d.. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The
Baltimore Museum of Art: E. Kirkbride Miller Research Library

Maybe you can paint. Maybe you can’t paint but Saidie May could paint. This is one of her landscapes.

For decades the May family repeated that the theft goes back to 1930s Mallorca. Family members visited the Mediterranean many times with one eye watching for the painting. Rooms were unlocked and cellars searched on a hunch. As soon as a guest named May checked into a hotel word went out, “Hide the painting!” not that anyone had any idea who had it.

Exhibit 5: Piet Mondrian, Composition V, 1927

Painting Piet Mondrian. Composition V. 1927.

Piet Mondrian. Composition V. 1927. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Bequest of Saidie A. May, BMA 1951.343
Piet Mondrian began his career as a landscape painter, but abandoned naturalism after being exposed to Cubism. “Composition V” is an example of the austere style he perfected in the 1920s. Restricting compositional elements to the bare essentials, Mondrian allowed himself to use only vertical and horizontal lines, right angles, and the three primary colors, along with black and white. Together with fellow artists of the De Stijl (The Style) art movement, Mondrian sought to purify art by purging all that was extraneous. The group’s goal was to achieve ideal harmony while suppressing individualism, viewed as the underlying cause of World War I.
Saidie May acquired this work in 1946 from French modernist architect and designer Pierre Chareau, who had moved to New York in 1940.

There is only an appearance of too little. Everything fits together simply. Some of the paintings are needlessly complicated. Black, white and primary colors. They fit. They do it all the time but no one has to create disorder. Timing matters.

The idiot had me restored. That means dirty original paint was removed and repainted. Won’t future generations love that. Makes my reds boil but that is individualism.

Exhibit J: Robert Delaunay, Portuguese Still Life, 1915-1916

Painting Robert Delaunay. Portuguese Still Life. 1915-1916.

Robert Delaunay. Portuguese Still Life. 1915-1916. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Bequest of Saidie A. May, BMA 1951.286
“Portuguese Still Life” is one of twelve paintings Robert Delaunay executed while living in Portugal during World War I. Several years earlier, his friend, the poet and art critic Guillaume Apollinaire, sought to define a new art movement called Orphism, based on Delaunay’s manner of combining vivid Fauvist color with the analytic structure of Cubism. Throughout 1913, Delaunay continued to explore color, and achieved complete abstraction in a series of paintings depicting chromatic disks. However, by the time he painted Portuguese Still Life in 1915, he was again looking at real objects for inspiration.
Saidie May bought this large colorful painting at the Sidney Janis Gallery in New York, just a year before her death. She felt that it provided a link between the works in the Cone Collection and
her own holdings.

He sacrificed much of the children’s tuition and his wife’s precious roasts for the Renoir for which the thieves considered him an idiot. He HAD TO bargain: How much cash did they think he could account for? He hated doing business with amateurs and their “buyer” was so condescending. He loved what he loved and he loved the Renoir. If you can’t see why you would have been nothing to him.

In a fit of nerves his wife gave the Renoir to the maid.

Exhibit I: André Masson, The Metaphysical Wall, 1940

André Masson. The Metaphysical Wall. 1940. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Bequest of Saidie A. May, BMA 1951.331. © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris André Masson’s otherworldly watercolor, "The Metaphysical Wall" of 1940, revisits imagery he had explored two years earlier in a drawing (illustrated below). Tall male and female figures flank a wall composed of colorful striations. The figures not only stand in front of the wall, but are mirrored in it as well. A crystalline form at the bottom encloses a skeletal being that is juxtaposed with a transparent ovoid womb containing a living figure to its right. These representations of life and death appear to emanate from a structure one writer has called the “temple of a mother goddess,” more clearly identifiable in the earlier drawing. Masson created this work in a period of crisis as Germany invaded France. The artist and his Jewish wife and family moved from place to place, eventually reaching Marseilles and escaping to America with the help of Saidie May. At war’s end, Masson sent "The Metaphysical Wall" to May in gratitude for her generosity.

André Masson. The Metaphysical Wall. 1940. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Bequest of Saidie A. May, BMA 1951.331. © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris
André Masson’s otherworldly watercolor, “The Metaphysical Wall” of 1940, revisits imagery he had explored two years earlier in a drawing (illustrated below). Tall male and female figures flank a wall composed of colorful striations. The figures not only stand in front of the wall, but are mirrored in it as well. A crystalline form at the bottom encloses a skeletal being that is juxtaposed with a transparent ovoid womb containing a living figure to its right. These representations of life and death appear to emanate from a structure one writer has called the “temple of a mother goddess,” more clearly identifiable in the earlier drawing.
Masson created this work in a period of crisis as Germany invaded France. The artist and his Jewish wife and family moved from place to place, eventually reaching Marseilles and escaping to America with the help of Saidie May. At war’s end, Masson sent “The Metaphysical Wall” to May in gratitude for her generosity.

By Jan Ryan

“Did you seek protection? Couldn’t you find the museum or the May apartment?” berates the Interrogator.
“Do you understand simile?” she retorts, “Like a plant, someone has to move me.”
“… throw out some seeds or fall into a visitor’s lap?” the questioning continues.
“After I left the museum no one drew, photographed, no more art history analysis, no X-rays or Internet. There were dire consequences were they to admit they had me. Outside we could be chased through a land of video cameras.”

Read the rest of the continuing story…

Exhibit 4: Juan Gris, Bottle and Glass, 1918

Painting by Juan Gris. Bottle and Glass. 1918. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Bequest of Saidie A. May, BMA 1951.305

Juan Gris. Bottle and Glass. 1918. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Bequest of Saidie A. May, BMA 1951.305

By Jan Ryan

Yeah, Saidie May would fondly remember her time drinking in Mallorca and her family’s blind eye to it, making and collecting art. No one knew anything she didn’t tell him or her. If she told them how would she remember? How would they remember? Juan Gris’s Bottle and Glass painting could have reminded her of men’s smoky Spanish chats in that independent period in her life but were the spillage tremors an earthquake or a reaction to really good wine? At home wine tasted like a chemical brew.

Read the rest of the continuing story…