Missing artwork rediscovered in Stuart Little movie goes under hammer

Hungarian art historian Gergely Barki poses next to a plush figure of the Stuart Little character in front of the painting  "Sleeping Lady with Black Vase" in Budapest on Nov27, 2014.  A long-lost avant-garde painting went under the au
Hungarian art historian Gergely Barki poses next to a plush figure of the Stuart Little character in front of the painting  "Sleeping Lady with Black Vase" in Budapest on Nov27, 2014.  A long-lost avant-garde painting went under the auction hammer Saturday in Hungary, after a sharp-eyed art historian rediscovered it being used as a prop in the Hollywood film Stuart Little. -- PHOTO: AFP

BUDAPEST (AFP) - A long-lost avant-garde painting went under the auction hammer Saturday in Hungary, after a sharp-eyed art historian rediscovered it being used as a prop in the Hollywood film Stuart Little.

Following intense media coverage, "Sleeping Lady with Black Vase" by Hungarian artist Robert Bereny fetched a price of €229,500 (S$375,000) at the auction held at the Budapest Congress Centre, after bidding started at €110,000.

Staff at the Virag Judit auction house told AFP that the buyer was an unnamed private Hungarian collector, and that the sale price exceeded expectations.

The painting's emergence from obscurity began in 2009 when Gergely Barki, a researcher at Hungary's National Gallery spotted it in the 1999 children's film about a mouse as he watched it with his daughter Lola.

"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," Barki told AFP previously.

The painting disappeared in the 1920s but Barki recognised it immediately even though he had only seen a faded black-and-white photo dating from a 1928 exhibition archived in the National Gallery.

Barki sent a flurry of e-mails to staff at the film's makers Sony Pictures and Columbia Pictures, receiving a reply from a former Sony employee, a set designer - two years later.

Bereny, the leader of a pre-World War I avant-garde movement called The Eight, fled to Berlin in 1920 after designing recruitment posters for Hungary's short-lived communist revolution in 1919.

It's unclear how the painting wound up in the US, but Barki has speculated the owner of the work probably left Hungary in the run-up to, or during, World War II.