He lived in Wilmington, Delaware for most of his childhood. He studied at the Kansas City Art Institute and in New York City at the National Academy of Design, and the Art Students League.
His most famous work is likely his portrait of Diana, Princess of Wales, completed in 1996.
The painting was first shown at Hirschl & Adler Gallery in New York City, April 24 to June 28, 1996.
Shanks has been on the faculty of the Memphis Academy of Arts, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Art Students League in New York, the National Academy of Design and Studio Incamminati and is a resident of Andalusia, Pennsylvania.
He is an honorary member of the American Society of Classical Realism Guild of Artists.
Shanks is a painter, teacher and art historian who has been influential in the revival of classical realism in the United States.
His portraits of royalty, famous politicians and celebrities have added to his international fame as one of the foremost contemporary figurative painters.
Shanks’ philosophies and skills have been shared through his teaching at various public and private institutions and in 2002, he founded Studio Incamminati in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; an academy dedicated to the
study, practice and spread of realist art using the philosophy and techniques espoused by Mr. Shanks.
His 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.
During the summer and fall of 2011, he had solo exhibitions in Russia at the Russian Museum, St. Petersburg and the Russian Academy of Art, Moscow.
He is one of two living American painters to have been invited to exhibit at either of these venues.
Other museum and gallery exhibitions include the National Academy of Design; Hirschl & Adler Galleries; Coe Kerr and FAR Galleries in New York; Dayton Art Institute; the Butler Institute of American Art; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Philadelphia Art Alliance; the New Jersey State Museum; the National Gallery of Art; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; Oklahoma University; the University of Pennsylvania; Temple University, Jefferson University, Johns Hopkins University; the College of William and Mary; the Allentown Art Museum, the Palmer Museum of Art; George Washington University; the University of the Arts; Oglethorpe University Museum; LaSalle University; the Royal Palace, Stockholm; and Kensington Palace, London.
A major one-man exhibition was held at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts as well as Hirschl & Adler exhibition, “Yanks Paint Brits.”
In August 2004, the city of Sarzana, Italy hosted a one-man exhibition entitled ‘Dal Maestro’/’From the Master’, in a fifteenth-century fortress called Fortezza Firmafede.
The Woodmere Art Museum, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, also hosted an exhibition ‘Dal Maestro’ in October, 2004, of more than fifty works by Nelson Shanks.
In addition, his work is held in distinguished collections worldwide.
American painter Nelson Shanks died on August 28, 2015 of cancer at age 77.