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Nelson Shanks: Realism Beyond Compare

October 2, 2009
Nelson Shanks "Salome" in Oil $295,000

Nelson Shanks "Salome" in Oil $295,000

“Dramatic use of color, harmonious design, the interplay of light and shadow across a variety of textures, the portrayal of the figure and other subject matter that reflects the sophistication and beauty I find in nature – all presented from a unique point of view – can only be successfully achieved with a sound command of the painter’s craft… history will determine how successful I have been.” -Nelson Shanks

Nelson Shanks is an internationally renowned artist whose work has been exhibited in museums and galleries worldwide, including the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.; the Royal Palace in Stockholm; Kensington Palace in London; and Fortezza Firmafede in Sarzana, Italy.  His impressive client list includes:  Presidents William Jefferson Clinton and Ronald Reagan; Diana, Princess of Wales; and Supreme Court Justice Antonio Scalia.  Mr Shanks said, “My career doesn’t depend on painting Bill Clinton.”  It certainly hasn’t, on April 25th of this year Shanks was awarded the Portrait Society of Amerca’s gold medal for lifetime achievement.  There’s no doubting that Shanks’ history of talent has been judged as exceedingly successful.

Nelson Shanks 1994 "Lady Di"

Nelson Shanks 1994 "Lady Di"

The realism with which Shanks paints is astounding.  “Photographs and reality are just night and day.  In reality, the information is all there.  A photograph is just kind of a hint,” says Shanks.  Truthfully, there is a profound vigor in the portraits of Nelson Shanks; his work contains a palpable presence, a window into the subject’s soul.  As Shanks states, “Realism has to be such high quality, you can’t fake it.  It’s all hanging out there like the laundry.”

Nelson Shanks "Tweedle Dee"

Nelson Shanks "Tweedle Dee"

Nelson Shanks "Harlequin" in Oil $155,000

Nelson Shanks "Harlequin" in Oil $155,000

Nelson Shanks' Palette

Nelson Shanks' Palette

Viewing Shanks’ palette is a study in appreciation of the breadth of his technique.  Value upon value, hue after hue, his keen eye for color allows him to give life, form, texture and depth to his work.   Nelson Shanks is not just concerned with his own career and work, but also wishes to give back to other artists who are eager to learn his techniques.  To this end, he and his wife, Leona, founded Studio Incamminati in 2002  (when translated from Italian, Studio Incamminati means “those who are progressing”), an atelier offering Shanks’ own curriculum based on the traditional techniques and aesthetics of realism.  William Seccombe, a contemporary artist, was privileged to attend a demonstration of Shanks, Seccombe provides picture references (see Shanks artist palette, courtesy of William Seccombe) on how Shanks develops a portrait on his blog, Blogcast William Seccombe.

Nelson Shanks "Danilova's Slipper"

Nelson Shanks "Danilova's Slipper"

Nelson Shanks "Bluebird"

Nelson Shanks "Bluebird"

Finally, we come to my favorite of Nelson Shanks’ work, “Bluebird.”  I was captivated by this painting from the moment I laid eyes on it years ago.  Color, contrast, and delicious imagery make you want to pack your bags and move into this work of art.  The composition is like a melody–everything speaking to each other, playing off the other notes, keeping you engaged.   “If you can see it, and if you know your color, you can paint it,” says Mr. Shanks, a fact he proves in every perfectly executed painting.   If you would like to learn more about Nelson Shanks, please refer to his official website: where you will find galleries of his work, and information about Studio Incamminati.

Thanks to Waterhouse Gallery and for the images of Nelson Shanks’ art in this post.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. October 5, 2009 10:06 am

    As usual, Nelson Shanks’ work takes my breath away. I study his flesh tones only to find the entire spectrum there. I’m just starting a new portrait and will be referring to his work all through the process.
    JoAnne Castelli Castor

  2. October 5, 2009 6:49 pm

    Hi JoAnne, I agree about Shanks’ work, he’s a long-time favorite of mine. Had a look at your paintings, they’re lovely, especially enjoyed your portrait of “Stephanie” all sorts of childlike charisma showing through! Keep up the great work, thanks for reading. I love to feature artists on this blog, so keep checking back! xox

  3. Biz permalink
    June 8, 2012 5:07 pm

    what does he use for surface? Board or canvas? It looks super smooth?

  4. March 30, 2013 5:02 am

    I will right away snatch your rss feed as I can’t find your email subscription hyperlink or newsletter service. Do you have any? Please allow me realize so that I may subscribe. Thanks.

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