Hungarian National Gallery researcher Gergely Barki couldn’t believe his eyes when he was watching Stuart Little and saw a long-lost 20th century Hungarian painting in the background of a scene.
“A researcher can never take his eyes off the job, even when watching Christmas movies at home,” Barki said. “I could not believe my eyes when I saw Bereny’s long-lost masterpiece on the wall behind Hugh Laurie.”
The painting, Sleeping Lady with Black Vase by Robert Bereny, can be seen hanging over the fireplace behind the fictional Little family as they pose for a family portrait. When it appeared in several other scenes in the movie, Barki knew he wasn’t just imagining the painting.
The avant-garde work hasn’t been seen in public since 1928.
Barki began writing emails to those who were involved with the film until he was able to track down a set designer, who purchased the prop without knowing its significance for $500 at an antique shop in Pasadena, California. Following the end of the film, the set designer bought the piece from the studio for herself and hung it in her Washington apartment. When Barki approached her about the piece, she sold it to an art collector, who will auction it later in December.
According to Barki, the original owner of the piece was likely a Jewish person who fled Europe before or during World War II. Barki, who is writing a book on Bereny, said the discovery will prove helpful in his research.
Although Barki didn’t profit from the work, he’s simply excited that his research will be strengthened by the discovery.
“It means that I can make a more complete publication of [Bereny’s] oeuvre catalog,” Barki said.
On December 13 the famous painting will go on auction in Budapest at a starting price of $110,000.