Ooh, Interesting! Fascinating Facts - Stuart Little and the Masterpiece

July 01, 2016

We love art. Our clients love art too, which is why we have so many art-inspired performers including caricaturists for hire, silhouette artists and even these Matisse-style body painted models. For this particular fascinating fact though, we’re probably more in the realm of In The Style Of because it’s such a remarkable story.

Have you seen Stuart Little? Chances are that if you have it was probably a long time ago as Hugh Laurie’s in it and wasn’t even playing the title role in House at that time. Jonathan Lipnick plays the young child who ends up befriending a mouse and to all intents and purposes it’s a perfectly fine film based on the E.B. White book of the same name. Aimed at children, adults can watch it and rest assured that they won’t be too bored as the plot takes flight. But why are we interested in it? Well…

In the film, Lipnicki is the son of a very wealthy couple and although to most people this home is a very good example of everything money can bring, to Gergely Barki it made him sit up and stare (and not because he was amazed at the CGI talking mouse that is Stuart Little). Watching the movie with his daughter in 2009, Barki paused the film after noticing something spectacular in the background. Can you see it in the image above? It’s just some painting amidst a poor resolution screenshot, right? Wrong.

That painting was a long lost masterpiece.

At the time, Barki was working as a researcher at the Hungarian National Gallery in Budapest and consequently knew a lot about Hungarian art history. One particular artist that he was very knowledgeable on was Robert Bereny, a man who painted ‘Sleeping Lady with Black Vase’ in the early 20th century. Since 1928 it hadn’t been seen in public and unfortunately for the nation of Hungary, all they had of it was an old black and white photograph. Despite being one of Bereny’s finest paintings, it was now considered lost… Until Barki spotted it in the background of the Littles’ home.

Wanting to verify his belief that this was the long lost masterpiece, Barki set about emailing everyone he could who had been involved in the film. Unfortunately this was harder said than done; the film was ten years old by this point and the chances of locating what happened to the painting were close to none. After a series of emails to the great and the good of the Hollywood hills, Barki eventually made contact with a set-designer assistant in 2011 whom remembered the painting very well. She had bought it as a prop for $500 at an antique shop in Pasadena, California and had no idea about the painting’s provenance.

“But where is it now?” Worried Barki, suddenly aware that his search might still be fruitless. The fears were unfounded—

“It’s on my bedroom wall.” Yes, the assistant had liked the painting so much that after the film had wrapped, she’d bought the painting from the studio and had displayed it ever since.

Within a year, Barki was able to get out to Washington to see the painting for himself and was terrifically excited to discover that this was indeed the long lost masterpiece. After telling the woman all about Robert Bereny – a man whom fled to Berlin in 1920 and had a love affair with Marlene Dietrich – she was understandably surprised and also made the decision to sell it at auction, aware that a masterpiece probably shouldn’t be left hanging on your wall without adequate security measures.

The film assistant sold the painting to an art collector who in turn placed it up for auction in December 2014 where it sold for $285,000. Barki saw none of that cash but was undoubtedly happy with the outcome; whilst agreeing to watch Stuart Little with his daughter, he had actually been putting off writing a biography on Bereny, which was undoubtedly subsequently improved by the discovery.


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By Henry Fosdike