Nicholas Volpe and the 1962 Volpe Collection of Academy Awards Portraits

Nicholas Volpe

Nicholas Volpe pictured in a 1968 ad

Nicholas Volpe is the artist behind a comparatively recent and affordable movie collectible that I've handled over and over in recent years. A 1962 copyright date and original $3 price tag are printed right on the outer folder which announces "for the first time ... A Complete Portrait Collection of Academy Award Winners - Best Actor Award and Best Actress Award, Suitable for Framing." Indeed they are.

Inside the folder are 67 different approximately 8" X 10" sheets of paper, each featuring a Nicholas Volpe drawing in charcoal of every Best Actor and Best Actress Academy Award winner from 1925-1961. The odd number results from the 1932 tie for Best Actor between Wallace Beery and Fredric March. Some actors and actresses are represented in the set more than once: Luise Rainer, Spencer Tracy, Bette Davis, Olivia De Havilland, spring to mind. In each case Volpe has done a unique drawing for each Oscar portrayal.

Robert Donat by Nicholas VolpeNicholas Volpe won a lifetime commission from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to create his Oscar portraits. In creating them he had to decide how to handle each drawing as part of a greater overall project, so the finished collection would have some consistency. The text on one of the inside flaps of the Volpe folder explains that "whenever an actor or actress altered their identity in characterization, Volpe decided to draw a double portrait--as the players really looked and as they appeared in characterization." See the example featuring Robert Donat in Goodbye, Mr. Chips at the right.

Volpe also illustrated other items which have since become collectible including portraits sponsored by Union Oil picturing the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team and the 1965 Cleveland Browns football team pictured on thermal tumblers as shown in a period ad on this page.

Volpe had other sports themed work as well, especially for the Dodgers with whom his time in Hollywood seems to have especially aligned him. Beyond the world of sport and film Nicholas Volpe would be commissioned to create portraits of John F. Kennedy, Winston Churchill, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan back when he was Governor of California.

In the world of music he won a Golden Grammy Award for his illustration of the album cover for Frank Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely and his 1964 portrait paintings of each Beatles member are currently for sale online. If you have a million dollars.

Cleveland Browns Thermal TumblersI was surprised such a well known and respected talent as Nicholas Volpe doesn't even manage to have a Wikipedia page all his own. That made tracing the details of his biography beyond the collectibles a little bit tougher, but what I did manage to cobble together follows.

The Volpes came from Italy and were living in New Haven, Connecticut when son Nicholas was born in 1911. The talented young Nicholas was sent back to Italy to study, not art, but violin, returning to the U.S. to attend Syracuse University on, of all things, a football scholarship! After graduating Nicholas Volpe overcame the challenge of thousands to become one of six winners of the Tiffany Foundation Art Scholarship Award.

After a time on Long Island he became a fine arts instructor at New York City's Leonardo da Vinci Art School, where he stayed two years before relocating to Jacksonville College in Florida where to serve as the Dean of Arts. According to Volpe: Portrait of an Artist he moved to Hollywood to not only design sets but also create makeup and fashion costumes. It was during this time that he began painting portraits of the stars which would eventually land him the commission from the Academy.

After winning his Golden Grammy for the Sinatra album he was commissioned by the Hollywood Brown Derby to paint nearly 200 top recording artists for the Derby's Hall of Fame Record Room. Nicholas Volpe would also have a newspaper column, Byways, published in the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner. Byways was what you might expect, a typical column would feature Nicholas Volpe drawings with accompanying commentary, also by Volpe.

Volpe was teaching art again at Pepperdine University in 1973 after which time he would begin a love affair with Mexico where he and his wife would travel on numerous occasions throughout the 1970's. Volpe was back for his final Union Oil Dodgers set in 1982. Nicholas Volpe died in 1992.


  1. says

    Hey Cliff. Sorry to hijack this thread but I wanted to let you know that I’ve nominated you for a Liebster Award. Details over at my blog.

  2. Truedy Curran says

    Does anyone know where I can sell  my Volpe  Portrait Collection of Academy Award Winners – Best Actor Award and Best Actress.  only have 47 of them (orig. set had 67). But they are near perfect. Maybe you have the other ones to complete the set. 909-933-0219 thank you Truedy Curran

  3. says

    I have 2 Volpe Pastels.. Signed… A Barn Find
    They are framed and of, well a bit
    of an odd subject…They are of Game Show Hosts from the 60’s/70’s ..
    Peter Marshall and George Golbel.
    They are Framed in in great shape..
    I must know more about why he or anyone would paint this subject and
    maybe a Value??? Thanks for any info and feel free to contact me with
    info, Thanks,.

    • says

       HI @facebook-1655390030:disqus thanks for posting the game show host Volpe images. My bet would be these two hosted their game shows primarily in Hollywood where Volpe wound up based. While they may not seem nearly the personalities of the old Oscar winners or L.A. Dodgers, I’m sure they were big in a time of only a handful of TV channels (I’m not familiar with Golbel myself). Perhaps Volpe did a series of local television personalities, perhaps he was commissioned for a special event involving these two.

      I don’t know what value would be on a Volpe signature. My guess is negligible, but I could be wrong.

      The framed portraits seem to have some condition issues, looks like water staining perhaps, or maybe just the outsides are dirty?

      The images themselves are very attractive but the subject matter and potential condition issues make them a tough sell.

      I don’t want to leave you with no idea but I will preface my own estimate by saying this is not my area–I don’t know about the Volpe signature and I’m not sure what size these are though I’m guessing about 16×20 or 20×24. If they were mine and I had to put a price tag on them I’d probably try for $60 on the Marshall, $45-$50 on the Golbel. I think I might be high because of condition, after all, no one wants to hang damaged art. Again, pretty items, tough sell.

      • Anonymous says

        OMG! You don’t know about George Golbel…one of the biggest TV stars of the 50’s and 60’s after many years in the Movies during the 40’s. Big comedian…..if these are original pastels…not litho prints…..they’re valued in the thousands. Milton Berle sold for $7200….another 50’s TV Star ( Mr. Saturday Night ) after years in vaudeville and the movies during the 30’s and 40’s. Do some research!

        • says

          1950s and ’60s TV is outside the scope of this site. I can’t find any ’40s film credits for Gobel, or I may have had a better idea of who he was. Regarding valuation, once more “this is not my area”–more to the point: I have no idea. I don’t sell anything like the items described, but gave my best idea based upon the photos and what they appeared to be. I hope the original commenter received true value, whatever that may have been. I did my research on the original post, which was about finding out more about Nicholas Volpe, not George Gobel or any related appraisals.

  4. Claudia says

    I have a complete set of 69 of this 1962 Volpe collection. They are all in very good to excellent condition. I’m interested in the value and market for them.

    • says

      Regretfully, not much, Claudia. I just passed on bidding on a collection for $10 myself. You’ll find them being offered with a wide range of prices–I’ve seen from $5 all the way up to $100 over the past few months, but they’re a hard sell at a fair price, which I’d consider $25-$30.