Nelson Shanks was born in Rochester, New York in 1937. Celebrated as one of the great masters of classical realist painting, during his lifetime Shanks was not only a painter but an art historian, connoisseur, collector, and educator expounding the importance of representational figurative art training and a traditional art historical education to his hundreds of students from across the country who flocked to the workshops he taught. Nelson and his wife, Leona Shanks, founded Studio Incamminati to provide a place where artists devoted to realism could study painting and acquire other skills necessary for successful artistic careers.
Shanks studied at New York’s famed Art Students League where he earned his tuition by serving as a monitor in the classes of artists such as Robert Brackman, Ivan Olinsky and Edwin Dickinson. Established painters such as John Koch took him on as a private student and provided substantial material as well as spiritual support of his dreams and aspirations.
His own remarkable progress soon earned him grants, including the most prestigious grants made to realist artists: the Greenshields Foundation (twice) and the Stacey Foundation (three times), that enabled him to study in Florence with the legendary Pietro Annigoni and at the Accademia di Belle Arti.
Upon his return to the United States, teaching positions took Nelson to Memphis, Chicago and then to Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where he maintained a studio for more than three decades. Shanks taught on the faculty of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Art Students League, National Academy of Design, The George Washington University, and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, among others. He also established an apprentice program at his Bucks County, Pennsylvania home and studio, where artists received room, board and instruction at no cost.
Shanks is internationally recognized for the uncanny ability he possessed in capturing the complex nature of his sitters. Widely sought after during his lifetime by royalty, politicians, CEOs, and world-renowned figures as a portrait-painter, Shanks was engaged to paint the portraits of a long list of the worlds’ well-known figures. Some of his notable commissions include President William Jefferson Clinton; Diana, Princess of Wales; Charles, Lord Spencer; His Holiness Pope John Paul II; Margaret Thatcher; Luciano Pavarotti for the Metropolitan Opera; Mstislav Rostropovich for the Kennedy Center; and Denyce Graves for the National Portrait Gallery.
The paintings Shanks created as his own artistic expressions are perhaps his greatest achievements. Wholly spectacular works of figurative art, Shanks’ paintings are unforgettable experiences of extravagant composition, glowing surfaces, rich color, and remarkable detail executed with exceptional skill and artistry.
Shanks’ work has been exhibited in museums and galleries worldwide, including the Art Institute of Chicago, IL; National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Royal Palace in Stockholm, Kensington Palace in London, and Fortezza Firmafede in Sarzana, Italy. During the summer and autumn of 2011, he had solo exhibitions in Russia at The Russian Museum in St. Petersburg and The Russian Academy of Art, Moscow. He was one of only two living American painters to have been invited to exhibit at either of these venues. In 2003, Forum Gallery presented an exhibition of works by Nelson Shanks featuring his portrait of His Holiness Pope John Paul II.
Nelson Shanks died in 2015 at his home in Andalusia, Pennsylvania.