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Rubbish or Riches: Evaluating Lowell Nesbitt’s ‘Iris on Gold’

By Staff | Dec 10, 2014

Has the owner of this week’s chosen object found Rubbish or Riches? Read on as I assess a painting on paper by American Pop Realist master, Lowell Nesbitt (b. 1933 – d. 1993) from a private collection.

I was approached by a private collector who had a Lowell Nesbitt painting on canvas titled “Iris on Gold” from 1981. The collector acquired the piece from a dealer in New Jersey and was interested to learn more about the graphic and its value.

Lowell Nesbitt is one of the precursors to the Photorealist and the Hyperrealist movements and was heavily influenced by the Pop movement. Nesbitt was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1933 and worked as a night watchman at the venerable museum, the Phillips Collection in Washington D.C. during high school. He later said the time that he spent with the masterworks at that institution inspired him to become a career artist. Nesbitt relocated to New York City in the 1950s after graduating from Temple University where he dabbled in Abstract Expressionism for a short time. It wasn’t until 1962, however, when he created his first large scale, realist, flower painting at the suggestion of founding Pop artist, Robert Indiana, that Nesbitt began his journey to become one of America’s most financially and critically successful artists.

Throughout the 1960’s Nesbitt explored a wide range of subjects for his paintings including flowers, landscapes, architecture, animals and many others, quite often executed on a large or gigantic scale. He was the first artist in world history to create paintings of computers and their internal components and he was also the first artist in history to create paintings inspired by x-rays.

Despite the financial and critical success of the early to mid 1960s which included many important museum exhibitions and commissions, it was the late 1960s and onward that brought Nesbitt’s career to the next level. NASA appointed him as the official artist of the Apollo 9 and the Apollo 13 space missions and later he became the official artist for the United States Department of Interior and the United States Navy. Under the Jimmy Carter Administration, Nesbitt was commissioned to create four flower paintings that were used as postage stamps by the United States Postal Service.

Lowell Nesbitt died suddenly in 1993 at the age of 59 in New York City. His paintings are owned by nearly every major institution in the United States and many abroad including the Smithsonian, the National Gallery of Art, the Library of Congress and scores of others. His estimated net worth the time of his death when calculated for inflation was approximately 100 million dollars.

The artwork to be assessed today is an oil painting on canvas by Lowell Nesbitt from 1981 titled “Iris on Gold” that measures 48 x 48 inches. The painting is signed, titled and dated by the artist on the verso (backside). While one of Lowell Nesbitt’s gigantic flower paintings on canvas from 1971 sold at Sotheby’s auction house in New York City for in excess of $43,000 dollars in 2011, the question posed here is what is this smaller painting on canvas worth? I would place the value of this panting at $5,000 – $7,000.

Do you have an artwork that you’ve always wanted to know the value and history of? Send it to Eric I. Hornak Spoutz at ericspoutz@gmail.com.

About the author:

Eric I. Hornak Spoutz is a nationally recognized Art Historian, Museum Exhibition Curator. Mr. Hornak Spoutz curated the 2013 Presidential Inaugural exhibition at the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System in Washington D.C. and has placed artworks into the permanent collections of the Smithsonian Institution, the Library of Congress, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Dartmouth College and a score of other institutions throughout North America. Mr. Hornak Spoutz resides in Cape Coral, Florida.