Painting hidden in Iowa closet 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, WHO reports.

Robert Warren, executive director of Hoyt Sherman Place in Des Moines, Iowa, said he was rifling through a closet two years ago in search of flags when he stumbled across a painting. There was an auction sticker on the back. The piece depicts a nude woman painting a landscape, flocked by two other people.

What Warren found was hidden treasure.

It was a painting by Otto van Veen, a Dutch master whose work sits in every major museum — the Louvre, the Portrait Gallery, the Rubens estate. His paintings have sold for anywhere from $4 million to $17 million. While Warren hasn't had this particular piece — dubbed "Apollo and Venus" — appraised, he estimates it's worth millions.

Warren has no plans to sell it. Instead, the painting will be displayed as part of the theater's permanent collection.

So how did a 400-year-old painting end up in an Iowa theater?

Chicago conservator told Warren the piece once hung in The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, in the 1880s. The painting was created between 1595 and 1600 and belonged to the Collins family of New York. When the family moved to Des Moines, they brought "Apollo and Venus" along and gifted it to the Des Moines Women's Club at Hoyt Sherman in the 1920s.

Warren thinks the content was simply too risqué for the club.

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