Pop Culture | Movies | 90s

An Art Expert Noticed This Painting In The Background Of 'Stuart Little' And Freaked Out Immediately

Columbia Pictures

When you re-watch your favorite movies from your childhood, you usually pick up on one or two things you never noticed.

Maybe there's an adult joke that flew over your head as a kid, or a special effect hidden in plain sight. But there's not many cases where a lost, extremely valuable painting is spotted just sitting in the background of a kids movie.

Columbia Pictures

It's probably been a while since you watched Stuart Little, so here's a refresher: Michael J. Fox voices the titular New York mouse, who's adopted by a loving, human family. Geena Davis and Hugh Laurie play his new parents, while Jonathan Lipnicki plays his brother.

It takes time for Stuart to adjust to his new home, but when he does the whole family poses for a picture in front of their fireplace. And that's where one art expert noticed something unbelievable.

Columbia Pictures

Hungarian art historian Gergely Barki was watching the movie with his daughter Lola back in 2009, and says he almost dropped her when he got a good look at the painting above the Little family's mantle.

By chance, Barki had stumbled onto the solution to a 80-year mystery, and made the painting's lucky owner very rich.

What are the odds: Barki was writing a book about Hungarian avant-garde painter Robert Bereny, and noticed one of Bereny's missing masterpieces being used as set dressing on Stuart Little.

Ference Isza

He recognized the painter's Sleeping Lady With a Black Vase right away, because it famously went missing after appearing at a Hungarian exhibition in 1928. It took another 9 years for Barki to track down the painting, basically by e-mailing anyone and everyone who worked on the movie.

Finally, an assistant set designer got in touch with Barki. She revealed that she bought the painting for $500 from an antiques store in Pasadena, and liked it so much that she bought it from Sony after shooting on Stuart Little ended.

In fact, the painting was hanging on the designer's wall when Barki called to reveal where it came from.

The designer sold her painting to a private collector, who put it on auction in Hungary. The lost masterpiece sold for more than $280,000. Not bad for a prop from a cartoon mouse movie.

While Barki has traced the painting back to an art auction in San Diego, it's still unclear how it traveled from Hungary to California.

The best guess is that it was smuggled out of the country to protect it from the Nazis sometime before World War 2, which happened to a lot of Hungarian art from the same period.

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