I am not an art historian. Like many people who are not art specialists, I can recognize many famous works of art. Also like most people, I just know what I like and what I don’t like. I once spent an hour in the Tate Modern staring at a piece that fascinated me, although I couldn’t explain why. Art is visceral.
This explains why sometimes a piece of art is thrown away or given to a charity which eventually turns out to be a long lost piece of art or even an unknown piece by a famous artist. If we don’t like a particular piece, and don’t believe it has value, we get rid of it.
At some point someone got rid of a piece of art that ended up in an antique store in Pasadena, California. That piece was purchased for $500 by an assistant set designer as a prop for a movie. After the movie studio was finished with it, the assistant set designer purchased it from the studio to hang in her home.
“Sleeping Lady with Black Vase” by Hungarian painter Robert Bereny (1887-1953) was last seen in public in 1928 and was presumed lost. Gergely Barki, an art historian with the Hungarian National Gallery in Budapest, was watching the 1999 movie “Stuart Little” with his daughter on Christmas 2009 when he saw the painting he knew only from a faded 1928 photo.
Barki started emailing those involved in the film and eventually found the current owner. He was able to see the painting and tell the owner about the artist. The assistant set designer sold the painting to an art collector and on December 13, 2014 it was sold at auction in Budapest for €229,500.
This is story with a great ending, a lost piece of art was found. But don’t you want to know more? What happened to this piece of art in 1928 and where has it been since then? At what point did the origins of this painting become so lost that no one realized the value of this piece?