As It Happens

Hungarian art historian discovers long-lost painting in kids' film 'Stuart Little'

It's a detective story in which avant-garde art meets a talking mouse with the voice of actor Michael J. Fox....

It's a detective story in which avant-garde art meets a talking mouse with the voice of actor Michael J. Fox.

The avant-garde art is a painting called "Sleeping Lady with Black Vase," a Hungarian work that has been missing for decades.

If it weren't for the fact that art historian Gergely Barki happened to watch the kids' movie Stuart Little on television with his daughter, the long-lost piece wouldn't be back in Hungary today.

"I knew this painting only from a black-and-white photograph," Barki tells As It Happens host Carol Off. "[Seeing it in Stuart Little] was the first time I saw the painting in colour. It was really shocking."

(Barki is referring to a faded black-and-white exhibition photo from 1928, which was taken just before the painting went missing.)

He immediately contacted everyone related to the film's production -- two years after it had wrapped. He estimates that he sent about 40 to 50 emails, including inquiries to the studio, director and set designer.

All of the people he emailed replied, but even though most could recall the painting, no one knew where it was.

"Finally, a month later, I received an email from the assistant of the set designer saying, 'Hi Greg, I have the painting in my bedroom.' It was a really lucky moment."

The assistant set designer had originally found the painting in a Los Angeles antique shop being sold for next to nothing and bought the piece for the film. Once production ended, she bought it back from the studio for $500.

Sometime after being contacted by Barki, she sold the painting to a private dealer who is now selling it at auction in Budapest.

The starting price is about $150,000 in Canadian dollars.

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