Long-Lost Hungarian Artwork Discovered...While Watching Stuart Little?

An art researcher spots missing Hungarian painting in the background of the 1999 family classic.

Screenshot courtesy Hyperallergic and Youtube

It was 2009. There Gergely Barki sat, watching Stuart Little, enjoying some quality time with his young daughter Lola nestled in his lap, when the researcher and art historian spotted something so startling that he nearly toppled his kid from her perch. In the background of a particularly adorable scene featuring the entire Little family convened in front of the fireplace, Barki spied, mounted above the mantel, a painting by Hungarian artist Róbert Berény. The artwork, “Sleeping Lady with Black Vase” (1927-1928), had last been exhibited in 1928 in Hungary before being sold to an unidentified individual, and had vanished from the country and public awareness, sometime around World War II, Barki estimated. Berény had been part of the Hungarian avant-garde collective Group of Eight, or The Eight, in the onset of the 20th century, and instrumental in bringing exhibitions of modernist art to Hungary.

“I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw Berény’s long-lost masterpiece on the wall behind Hugh Laurie. I nearly dropped Lola from my lap,” Barki told the Guardian. “A researcher can never take his eyes off the job, even when watching Christmas movies at home.”

“Sleeping Lady with Black Vase” (1927-1928), Róbert Berény.

Barki sent repeated emails to Sony and Columbia Pictures reporting his findings, but heard nothing for two years until a set designer who had worked on Stuart Little replied.

“She had snapped it up for next to nothing in an antiques shop in Pasadena, California, thinking its avant-garde elegance was perfect for Stuart Little’s living room,” Barki said.

The set designer sold “Sleeping Lady” to a private collector, who has now brought the painting back to Budapest for sale by auction. The artwork will be sold on December 13 at the Judit Virág auction house, with bids starting at 34,000,000 Hungarian Forints, or a little over $137,000 dollars.

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