WASHINGTON (AP) - A federal court battle over a stolen Renoir has fractured relations between a northern Virginia man and his sister, who maintains she bought the painting at a West Virginia flea market for $7 in 2009.
Her story is contradicted by the brother's girlfriend, who told The Washington Post she found the tiny landscape painting in the siblings' mother's attic in 2011. The girlfriend says the sister told her that her mother was giving her the painting for safekeeping, the newspaper reported Friday.
The case spilled into public view in March, when federal authorities seized the painting amid competing ownership claims, including one from the Baltimore Museum of Art, which reported the painting stolen in 1951.
The 1879 painting on a linen napkin, titled "On the Shore of the Seine," has an appraised value of $22,000.
Matt Fuqua, 50, of Great Falls said he recently told lawyers in sworn depositions that his mother had told his sister, Marcia "Martha" Fuqua, to give back the painting. Matt said he told the lawyers, "My mother told Martha to 'return the painting to its rightful owner - the museum - so all of this goes away.' "
Martha Fuqua, 51, of Loudon County, declined to comment, saying only, "Call my brother," the Post reported.
The siblings' relationship has grown bitter since their mother, artist Marcia Fouquet, died about two months at age 85, Matt Fuqua said. In October, Martha was charged with burglarizing the apartment of Matt's girlfriend, Jamie Lynn Romantic, and stealing her jewelry, antiques and furniture.
Additional charges of assault and battery against her brother were later dropped, but Matt and Romantic obtained temporary protective orders from a Fairfax General District Court magistrate. In a petition to the court, Matt wrote that his sister has told him, "I'm dead to her."
Defense attorney Michael Harrington denied that Martha broke into Romantic's apartment.
Now Martha, the trustee of her mother's estate, is trying to evict the couple from the mother's property and recoup $30,000 in allegedly unpaid rent. Matt declined to comment on those matters but said his relationship with his sister has been ruined.
"This whole Renoir thing has made my sister and I - who used to be kind of close - now be enemies and at war," he said.
He said he has told his sister to return the painting. "She said, 'You don't know what you're talking about,'?" Matt said.
Martha's attorney for the Renoir case, T. Wayne Biggs, declined an interview request from the Post. The case is set for a two-day jury trial starting Jan. 15 in U.S. District Court in Alexandria.