Painting Stored In Closet For Decades Turns Out To Be Worth Millions

Published April 3, 2018

It turns out the hidden painting was done by famed artist Otto van Veen, once hung in the Met, and is worth millions of dollars.

Apollo Venus Painting

Hoyt Sherman Place/Duane Tinkey/DSM MagazineThe closet the painting was found in and the painting.

A forgotten painting stuffed in the closet of an Iowa art gallery is actually over 400 years old and likely worth millions of dollars.

In 2016, Robert Warren, the executive director of the Hoyt Sherman Place art complex in Des Moines, was poking around the closet of his art gallery when he came across an oil painting of nude mythological figures tucked in a corner between a table and the wall. It was painted on wood and had some damage as well as a few cracks.

“I was a little surprised because it’s a wood panel painting,” said Warren. But because of the painting’s damage and its location, he didn’t think much of it. “I had no idea that it was as valuable as it turned out to be,” he said. What did catch Warren’s eye was an auction sticker on the back of the painting.

Van Veen Painting

wgntvOtto van Veen’s Apollo and Venus

Further research found that this wasn’t actually an auction sticker. It was a tag that indicated the painting had once hung in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

After following a track of information, Warren learned that the painting was the work of Dutch master artist Otto Van Veen. Entitled Apollo and Venus, it was painted in the year 1600.

van Veen’s work appears in most major museums including the Portrait Gallery, the Louvre, and the Rubens estate. In addition, his paintings have been valued between $4 million and $17 million.

Warren found out that Apollo and Venus was loaned to the Met by a man named Nason Collins. When Collins moved to Des Moines in the early 1900s, he took the painting with him. Collins’ granddaughter donated the painting, along with four others, to the Des Moines Women’s Club in the 1920s.

Warren speculates that the painting remained hidden because it was considered too risqué to display at the time.

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

Though the estimated value of the piece is still waiting to be confirmed by an appraiser, Warren says there are no plans to sell it anyway. Hoyt Sherman Place held a private unveiling of the artwork last month and the gallery is now making plans to display it permanently.

“People want to come in and see it,” Warren said. “But we have to wait until security is updated.”

If you found this article interesting, you may also want to read about the awful painting bought for less than a dollar that turned out to be a Hitler. Then you can take a look at this photo of Billy the Kid, which could be worth five million dollars.

Kara Goldfarb
Kara Goldfarb is a writer living in New York City.