Multi-million dollar painting had been forgotten in closet for decades

(Photo: NBC News)

DES MOINES, Iowa (WTHR) - It’s the kind of discovery that makes you want to start searching closets.

It happened two years ago on Flag Day. Robert Warren was searching Des Moines’ Hoyt Sherman theatre for Civil War flags stored there. Instead, he found a painting.

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

The artwork was found in a closet tucked away between the wall and a table.

Warren said he really had no idea what he had found.

"I was a little surprised because it’s a wood-panel painting. 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.”

Warren’s research revealed it was quite a treasure.

"Auto 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 four million and 17 million, so we think it`s somewhere in that range."

The painting will be on display at the gallery and they don’t plan to sell it.

“We have a spot picked out for it. We're just in the process of finishing the installation.”

As for why the object was hidden in the first place, Warren says there was probably objection to the nudity depicted in the painting when it was received back in the 1920s.

“Apollo has his tunic lifted up, exposing his thigh. Cupid is in there with her arrow. The mountain of love is what's she's painting and he`s feeding her a tray of oysters, so its very suggestive. There's jewelry dripping all over the furniture so in that era it was symbolic of before your rose to Heaven you had this earthly epiphany of your soul and nudity was the beauty that led you to eternity.”

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