Painting hidden in closet for decades believed to be worth millions

DES MOINES, Iowa - A painting hidden away for decades in a closet at an Iowa theater may be worth millions.

"Two years ago, Presidents' Day weekend I was looking for some civil war flags," said Robert Warren, Executive Director of Hoyt Sherman Place.

"I noticed the bottom half of Apollo and Venus," Warren told WHO. "Pulled it out from behind the table and noticed on the back of it there was an auction sticker."

What Warren found was a hidden treasure.

In the flower closet, on the balcony level, is where the painting was found. It was discovered tucked in a corner between a table and wall.

Warren didn't know the value of what he had stumbled upon.

"I was a little surprised because it`s a wood panel painting," said Warren. "I didn't really know much about it until I looked at the back of it and I could see the webbing and then the contents of the front was so badly damaged and there were water stains on it, in a room filled with junk. I had no idea that it was as valuable as it turned out to be."

The painting's exact value still remains a mystery, but it is believed to be worth millions.

Otto van Veen, the artist, is in every major museum, the Louvre, the Portrait Gallery, the Rubens estate and the paintings that have been sold that have been valued between $4 million and $17 million," said Warren. "So, we think it's somewhere in that range, but until it’s fully installed and we get an appraiser out here, we can only speculate."

At the moment, there are no plans to sell it. Warren says the painting will be displayed as part of the permanent collection in the Hoyt Sherman Gallery.

"We have a spot picked out for it," said Warren. "We're just in the process of finishing the installation."

And as to why it's remained hidden away all of these years, Warren believes the content of the painting was simply too risqué for the Des Moines Women's Club when they received it in the early 1920s.

"At that time, there were no other paintings in the entire collection of 54 that had any nudity at all," said Warren.

With the help of a Chicago conservator who did restoration on the painting, Warren was able to discover that the painting was created between 1595 and 1600. It once hung in The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, in the 1880s. The Collins family of New York loaned the painting to the "Met."

The family later moved to Des Moines, and loaned and later gifted "Apollo and Venus" and four other paintings to the Des Moines Women's Club at Hoyt Sherman.