back to top

Lost Masterpiece Discovered In Background Of "Stuart Little"

"I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw Bereny's long-lost work on the wall behind Hugh Laurie."

Posted on

A long-lost masterpiece by Hungarian artist Robert Bereny was discovered after it was spotted in the background of 1999 kids' film "Stuart Little" by an art historian, AFP reported.

AFP / Getty Images FERENC ISZA

Gergely Barki, a researcher at Hungary's National Gallery, spied Bereny's (1888-1953) avant garde painting "Sleeping Lady with Black Vase," while he was watching the film with his daughter Lola in 2009.

The painting went missing in the 1920s, but Barki's discovery means it has returned home to Budapest for the first time in 85 years.

"I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw Bereny's long-lost masterpiece on the wall behind Hugh Laurie, I nearly dropped Lola from my lap. A researcher can never take his eyes off the job, even when watching Christmas movies at home," 43-year-old Barki told AFP.

He said he instantly recognized the picture despite having only ever seen a faded, black and white 1928 photo of it.

The painting was positioned above the fireplace in the Little family home in the film.

Sony/Columbia Pictures/Vine

Barki send scores of emails to the film's makers, Sony and Columbia Pictures, and received a response two years later, AFP reported.

AFP / Getty Images / Ferenc Icza

The responder was a set designer, who used to have the picture "hanging on her wall."

"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.

After the set designer moved on from Sony, she sold it to a private collector, who has returned "Sleeping Lady With A Black Vase" to Budapest for a Dec. 13 auction, where it is expected to fetch around 110,000 euros ($137,350).

Robert Bereny was at the forefront of the early 20th century "Group of Eights" avant-garde movement. In 1920, he fled to Berlin after designing posters for Hungary's short-lived 1919 communist revolution, where he had a romance with actress Marlene Dietrich and, according to rumours, a fling with Russia's Tsar Nicholas II's mysterious daughter, Anastasia.

Barki said it is believed the 1928 buyer of the painting left Hungary for the United States in the run-up to World War II.

"After the wars, revolutions, and tumult of the 20th century many Hungarian masterpieces are lost, scattered around the world," he told AFP.