Iowa Museum Finds 16th Century Painting Worth Millions in Closet

Chicago painting conservator Barry Bauman with Otto van Veen’s  “Apollo and Venus” (Flemish, ca.  1600, unsigned); detail.
Chicago painting conservator Barry Bauman with Otto van Veen’s  “Apollo and Venus” (Flemish, ca. 1600, unsigned); detail.
(Hoyt Sherman Place)

In February 2016, a museum director in Iowa was looking for some Civil War flags when a staff member mentioned there was an array of collection items in a little-used storeroom.

Robert Warren, director of Hoyt Sherman Place, a Des Moines museum and theater, then noticed a painting wedged between a table and wall of the space. He had discovered a 400-year-old early Baroque panel painting. The Old Master had been “lost in the shuffle” for decades.

Chicago painting conservator Barry Bauman, who has also restored works by Thomas Moran, George Inness, and Edwin Lord Weeks for the museum, began an intensive conservation of the rediscovered painting. It turns out to be Des Moines’ earliest Old Master painting, Otto van Veen’s  “Apollo and Venus” (Flemish, ca. 1600, unsigned).

The work includes an exhibition label from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and was gifted to Hoyt Sherman Place in the 1920s.

Warren says van Veen's work historically has sold for between $4 million and $17 million, and an appraisal of the rediscovered work is underway. The painting will be permanently installed in July.

Van Veen is known for his church altarpieces and for maintaining an active studio with numerous students. His most famous pupil was Peter Paul Rubens.

The scene depicts the figures of Apollo and Venus accompanied by her son Cupid. The painting also contains four still-lifes referencing Venus’ beauty and fertility: a collection of jewelry, a basket of fruit and flowers, a sprig of roses, and a bowl of oysters. A fifth still-life of her painting supplies occupies the lower right corner.

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