Lowell Nesbitt

Born in 1933 - United States


Lowell Nesbitt (1933-1993) was one of the most celebrated and noted artists for his floral works of art. An artist with a highly personal style, Nesbitt made realistic studies of many themes throughout his career. His most well known series, and perhaps his most beautiful and poetic, are the more than four hundred works he created using the flower as the theme. Since his first show in 1957, Nesbitt has had more than eighty, one man shows. His painting, drawings and prints are included in the collections of many prestigious museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Fine Art in New York, and the National Gallery of Fine Art in Washington, D.C. In addition, his works are held in many private and public collections worldwideLowell Nesbitt was born in Baltimore on Oct. 4, 1933, was a graduate of the Tyler School of Art at Temple University in Philadelphia and also attended the Royal College of Art in London, where he worked in stained glass and etching. He often said that a stint working as a night watchman at the Phillips Collection in Washington inspired him to paint. Known for Huge Flowers.

In 1964, the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington gave him one of his first museum exhibitions, and by the mid-1970's he had decided to leave the museum a bequest of more than $1 million. But in 1989 Mr. Nesbitt publicly revoked the bequest after the Corcoran canceled a disputed exhibition of photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe, who was an old friend. Mr. Nesbitt named the Phillips Collection as a beneficiary instead.

Mr. Nesbitt was frequently grouped with the Photo Realists, but his images were more interpretively distorted, somewhat loosely painted and boldly abbreviated. He had many subjects: studio interiors, articles of clothing, piles of shoes and groupings of fruits and vegetables. He also painted his dog, a Rottweiler named Eric; the Neo-Classical facades of SoHo's 19th-century cast-iron buildings and several of Manhattan's major bridges.

Despite such variety, Mr. Nesbitt was best known for gargantuan images of irises, roses, lilies and other flowers, which he often depicted in close-up so that their petals seemed to fill the canvas. Dramatic, implicitly sexual and a little ominous, they earned the artist a popularity with the general public that tended to overshadow his reputation within the art world.

In 1976, Nesbitt had moved from his studio, an already large location on West 14th Street (which he shared with artist Ian Hornak in the middle portion of the 1960s) in New York, to 389 West 12th, Street, New York. Formerly the site of a police stable that he purchased and renovated the area measured in excess of 12,500 square feet (1,160 m2). This studio and living space, included an indoor swimming pool, a four-story atrium and a rooftop entertainment area; Nesbitt labelled the facility "The Old Stable." Nesbitt hired two full-time staff members, a caretaker for his plants and a chef. This provided a befitting backdrop to the artist's larger-than-life artworks – the largest single painting that Nesbitt is known to have created was more than 30 feet (9.1 m) long, with many 20 feet (6.1 m) in length or height. The Lowell Nesbitt studio became a popular gathering place for major art world figures, celebrities and dignitaries including Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Indiana, Jasper Johns, Robert Motherwell, Larry Rivers and James Rosenquist. This monumental space that Nesbitt created resulted in feature articles about the facility in the New York Times, the Washington Post and Architectural Digest Magazine in the late 1970s. After Lowell Nesbitt’s death the "Old Stable" was purchased by fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg who used it for her primary design studio and inner-city living area. She continued to use the structure until the early 2000s when it was sold and demolished to make space for a new high-rise building.

In 1980 the United States Postal Service issued four stamps based on Mr. Nesbitt's floral paintings. He also served as the official artist for the space flights of Apollo 9 and Apollo 13.

Mr. Nesbitt exhibited frequently in both the United States and Europe and is represented in many public collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. His first one-man show in New York City was at the Howard Wise Gallery in 1965, and over the years he was represented in New York by the Stable Gallery, the Robert Stefanotti Gallery and the Andrew Crispo Gallery. His most recent New York show was in 1986 at the Marco DiLaurenti Gallery in SoHo.

In June 1989 Lowell Nesbitt became involved with the scandal involving fellow artist photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. The Corcoran Gallery of Art(Museum) in Washington D.C. had agreed to host a solo exhibit of Mapplethorpe's works without stipulating what type of subject matter would be used. Mapplethorpe decided to make his famed debut of "sexually suggestive" photographs in Washington D.C.; a new series that he had explored shortly before his death. The hierarchy of the Corcoran and even certain members of United States Congress were horrified when the works were revealed to them, thus the museum refused to go ahead with the exhibit. It was at this time that Nesbitt stepped forward. As a long time friend of Mapplethorpe's he revealed that he had a 1,500,000.00 USD bequest to the museum in his will. However, in public statements causing a press sensation regarding the issue, Nesbitt promised that if the museum refused to host the exhibition of the controversial images created by Mapplethorpe he would revoke his bequest. The Corcoran refused and Lowell Nesbitt bequeathed the 1,500,000.00 USD to the Phillips Collection which he cited as an early inspiration to his career when he had worked there as a young man in the position of a night watchman.

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