Portrait of Gov. Phil Bredesen

American Art Collector, March 2011

Last month, Nashville artist Michael Shane Neal’s portrait of the esteemed former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen was unveiled.

“It’s hard to describe what an honor it is to think of your portrait hanging here for a long time to come,” Gov. Bredesen expressed to the crowd at the Nashville, Tennessee-Capitol building. Bredesen’s portrait hangs alongside a long line of former governors.

Bredesen served two terms in Tennessee’s highest office, enjoying popularity as the 48th governor by leading the state through a fiscal crisis without raising taxes or cutting school funding. He also has been an outspoken advocate of improving education and helped bring more than 100,000 jobs into the state in his first term alone.

For many artist, getting to know a sitter is an extremely important part of capturing him or her on the canvas. Michael Shane Neal shared a bit about developing the commission.

“From the moment I began discussions with the governor about his official portrait, I was impressed with his knowledge of art and the process,” says Neal. “He paints in his spare time and is truly a Renaissance man excelling in a wide variety of interests.”

They began the painting process by walking through the state Capitol building, examining the portraits of former governors and with Neal photographing the governor in a variety of poses and locations throughout the Capitol, before finding the ideal spot just across from the Senate Chamber.

Over the next few months, the governor posed whenever he could find time. “I feel strongly that it is important to paint from life whenever possible,” explains Neal. “Although photos are an important tool in today’s fast-paced world of portrait painting, the interaction of artist and sitter makes all the difference in capturing a personality on canvas. It’s during these sessions that the most important decisions are made in the evolution of the portrait. Of all my time spent with the governor, my favorite moment was the afternoon we spent painting in the Capitol building in exactly the same spot on the catwalk where I had originally discovered my composition for the portrait.”

Neal is a sixth-generation native of Nashville, Tennessee. A professional artist for 20 years, his work is included in public and private collections throughout the United States. Among the youngest artists ever collected by the U.S. Senate, Neal’s most recent commissions include such notables as Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd and actor Morgan Freeman. His portrait of former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist will be unveiled at the U.S. Capitol on March 2, 2011.