A specialist in art litigation, Mr. Lowe operated his law practice from his Georgetown residence since 1949 and immersed himself in the city’s cultural milieu.
At embassy soirees and cocktail parties, he cut an unusual figure. He fashioned himself a bon vivant but, with his full black beard he resembled the hirsute counterculture figures of the 1960s and ’70s who had once been among his clientele, including the poet Allen Ginsberg.
Mr. Lowe owned a Jaguar, but he rode his Harley-Davidson motorcycle to court. Using Freedom of Information Act requests, he helped Ginsberg, Jane Fonda, Joan Baez, Tom Hayden and other activists obtain their FBI, CIA and State Department records. In 1967, he persuaded prosecutors to drop a charge of marijuana possession against the son of author John Steinbeck.
Mr. Lowe’s work for those clients was linked closely to his own left-wing sympathies and organizing activities, which included years spent agitating for prison reform and on behalf of political prisoners abroad.
He developed friendships with prominent artists and arts patrons, including thefinancier and museum benefactor Joseph H. Hirshhorn and his widow, Olga. From unestablished artists too poor to pay for his services, Mr. Lowe accepted paintings, sculptures and sketches as compensation and displayed the works in his office.
Over the years, Mr. Lowe represented the painters Tom Downing and Kenneth Noland and sculptors David Smith, Louise Bourgeois, Hilda Thorpe and Ella Tulin, the last of whom was once his companion. Mr. Lowe’s work for Smith proved important in the field of art law.
Four years after Smith’s death in 1965, the Internal Revenue Service challenged the estate’s $714,000 valuation of 425 unsold Smith works. The tax agency assessed a fair market value of $5.4 million, which would have slapped an exorbitant charge on the estate.
Along with art critic Clement Greenberg and artist Robert Motherwell, Mr. Lowe was an executor of the Smith estate. He argued for what is known as a blockage discount, noting that the hypothetical sale of all the works at one time would flood the market and thereby drastically reduce their retail value.
In 1972, the U.S. Tax Court made what it labeled a “Solomon-like pronouncement” and placed a $2.7 valuation on the Smith works. The court did not elaborate on its decision, which set an important precedent affecting later cases by the estates of Georgia O’Keeffe and other artists.
Ira Melvin Lowe was born in Boston on March 5, 1924. His father, Isadore — born in Russia and educated at Harvard Law School — moved the family to Washington in 1934 and spent his legal career at the Agriculture Department.