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"The traditional boundaries of representational painting are often crossed in Shanks' paintings, and it is the artist's goal in all his works to transcend the conventional categories into which we place most representational painting."
-Michael Gitlitz, Hirschl & Adler Galleries
Painter Nelson Shanks, particularly renowned for his portraits, began his college education by studying architecture. His serious study of art began at the Kansas City Art Institute, followed by study throughout Europe, particularly in Italy, before returning to study in New York. A resident of Bucks County since 1968, Shanks has a long-established reputation as one of the foremost advocates and practitioners of classicist and realist painting. His work typically includes portraits of well-known figures as well as still lifes, imbued with allegorical and symbolic meanings. Strongly influenced by works from the Italian Renaissance and the Baroque period, Shanks painted primarily in oil on canvas or panel. Figures, interiors, portraits, and landscapes were his most common subjects. Shanks' commitment to the traditions of humanism and progressive realism was emphasized when he founded the School for Contemporary Realist Art, in Philadelphia in 2002 with his wife Leonora, of Studio Incamminati.
Shanks' works have been exhibited at the National Academy of Design; Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York; the Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Philadelphia Art Alliance; the New Jersey State Museum; the Royal Palace, Stockholm; and Kensington Palace, London. Shanks received the Portrait Society of America's Lifetime Award in 2011.
He had a retrospective exhibition at the Michener Art Museum, Nelson Shanks: A Brush with Reality, in 2013.
Shanks died on August 28, in 2015 at the age of 77.
Nelson Shanks (1937-2015), A Self Portrait. Oil on canvas. Image courtesy of the artist.
Education and Training
Architecture at University of Kansas, School of Engineering
Kansas City Art Institute, Kansas City, Kansas
Art Students League, New York, New York
L'Accademia d'Belle Arte, Florence, Italy
Teachers and Influences
Shanks studied privately with Piero Annigoni, Henry Hensche, and John Koch. He studied at the Art Students League under Robert Brackman, Edwin Dickinson, and Ivan Olinsky.
Connection to Bucks County
Shanks lived in Bucks County from 1968 until his death in 2015. Before moving to his home and studio in Andalusia, Shanks lived in New Hope at Spring Dale, an eighteenth century mill that once belonged to Dr. Charles Huffnagle. It is also where artists Robert Spencer and Charles Ramsey lived in the early part of the twentieth century.
Major Solo Exhibitions
Allentown Art Museum, Allentown, Pennsylvania, 1976
Bucks Fever, Pearl S. Buck House, Perkasie, Pennsylvania, 1991
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1996
Woodmere Art Museum, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 2004
Academy of the Arts, Moscow, Russia, 2007
State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia, 2007
Nelson Shanks: A Brush with Reality, Michener Art Museum, Doylestown, Pennsylvania, 2013
Major Group Exhibitions
Phillips' Mill Annual Art Exhibition, New Hope, Pennsylvania, 1969, 1972, 1976, 1977
Artists of the Commonwealth: Realism in Pennsylvania Painting, 1950-2000, Michener Art Museum, Doylestown, Pennsylvania, 2001
Treasures from the La Salle University Art Museum, Travis Gallery, New Hope, Pennsylvania, 2005
Shanks was frequently commissioned to paint high-profile persons, ranging from royalty to politicians to artists. Among others, he has painted:
His Majesty King Carl XVI Gustaf and Her Majesty Queen Silvia of Sweden
Queen Julianna of the Netherlands
Her Royal Highness, Diana, The Princess of Wales
Robert Wood Johnson, Jr.
Mrs. Robert Wood Johnson, Jr.
Dr. C. Everett Koop
Ms. Darla Moore
Mr. Luciano Pavarotti
Mr. Lionel Pincus
Former President of the United States Ronald Reagan
Mr. Jeffrey Speyer, Chairman of the Board, Museum of Modern Art
Mr. Arthur O. Sulzberger, Sr., Chairman of the Board, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Chariman Emeritus New York Times
Lady Margaret Thatcher
Mr. Marcus Wallenberg
Dr. Peter Wallenberg
He was also commissioned to paint the portrait of President Clinton for the National Portrait Gallery, Pope John Paul II for the Vatican Museum, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, New York City, for the Johns Hopkins University.
Teaching and Professional Appointments
Memphis Academy of Arts
Art Institute of Chicago
National Academy of Arts
Art Students League
Associate Professor, University of the Arts
Distinguished Visiting Professor in Fine Arts, George Washington University, 1990
Doctor of Fine Arts, Honorary, Arcadia University, 1993
Founder, Studio Incamminati, 2002
Yearly Workshop at Armory Art Center, West Palm Beach
Frank V. Dummon Memorial Scholarship
Anna Lee Stacey Memorial Scholarship, recipient three times
DeVecchi Prize, Phillips' Mill Juried Art Exhibition Show, 1969
Special Patron's Bicentennial Prize, Phillips' Mill Juried Art Exhibition, 1976
Woodmere Endowment Fund Prize, Woodmere Art Gallery, 1970, 1971
Lifetime Achievement Award in the Arts, Central Bucks Chamber of Commerce, 1990