About portrait painter Peter engels

About portrait painter Peter Engels

Peter Engels is a contemporary international artist in the most difficult field in art: portraits. His celebrity portraits painted with the pallet knife in his typical sepia tones are unique, contemporary, innovatory. They inspire many young emerging artists around the world. In the very same Vintage style Peter creates his large Vintage Sculptures. These sculptures add a sense of sophistication to gardens, parks and squares.

Famous models, famous buyers

His Nelson Mandela portrait adorned Reuters’ largest billboard of the world on Times Square, at Mandela’s birthday. This feat lifted the art career of Peter Engels to unseen heights. Prince Albert of Monaco bought the portrait of Grace Kelly. Peter Engels met and painted Roger Moore, Toots Thielemans, Karl Lagerfeld and Princess Astrid of Belgium. Nicole Kidman lived in his hometown and he painted her. For her villa in Cannes Peter Engels painted a huge portrait of Estée Lauder. Richard Branson posed live while Peter Engels painted him. The conspicuous Vintage Portraits of Peter Engels are gleaming, they show emotion and tell life stories. Karl Lagerfeld said: “A mirror reflects my face. This painting reflects my soul.“


Peter Engels: “The best part of painting my Vintage Portraits is holding an emotion, pausing it. The perpetuation of that one meaningful moment, is but a finger snap in the infinite universe. That single moment in eternity fascinates me. My paintings make people immortal. People who make a difference: famous, infamous, loved, hated, known or unknown. They all have unique life stories with a deeper meaning and a charged atmosphere. Together they have sculpted history to what it is today.”


Born 10th of July 1959 in Antwerp, Belgium, Peter Engels has been drawing and painting portraits as long as he can remember. All of his fellow school students were given paintings, drawings and portraits. At the age of 12 Peter once came home with a big zero for drawing. The teacher simply could not believe that young Peter made the drawing.

At the art academy Peter was told he had to paint the exact shapes of the models. ‘Do not idealise forms and shapes,’ they said. That was a good moment to quit. ‘In fact,’ Peter Engels says, ‘that was the moment that I felt like a rebellious artist. From that moment on I worked like crazy to put together an exhibition. My way. When I was 24 I had my first solo exhibition. I sold every painting I had. In fact, during the exhibition I made new paintings to try to cover the empty walls.’

Since then Peter Engels had exhibitions all over the world. He has paintings hanging in every continent.


Around the mid eighties, Peter Engels painted tropical views. ‘That was what intrigued me the most: palm trees, emerald seas, white beaches.’ And he painted portraits. ‘Mainly girls,’ he laughs. He also was intrigued by ancient Egypt and some of his paintings were influenced by it. That is when he started to travel more often to visit the places he dreamed about.

His interest in art grew to larger proportions. Peter Engels painted, had exhibitions and studied how e.g. Claude Monet, Degas, Edward Hopper, Andy Warhol, Nico Vrielink and Bob Ross (the happy painter) performed their magic on canvas. He visited exhibitions in Paris, New York, London, Miami, Düsseldorf, Los Angeles and Amsterdam. ‘I remember at the Monet exhibition in Paris people urged me to stand back from the paintings. I wanted to see how Monet used his brushes. You cannot see that from a distance. People must have thought I was impolite and ignorant. But, hey, being a painter is a tough business.’

Vintage portraits

More often Peter Engels had exhibitions together with his father, Marcel Engels, who was a landscape painter because organising exhibitions became too hard for Marcel Engels who was in his seventies.

In 2005 exhibiting came abruptly to an end when in spring his father died. At that time Peter Engels made his first -as he calls them- Vintage Portraits, painted with the pallet knife in his typical sepia colours. After 30 years Peter changed to the most difficult discipline in art: portrait painting, and gives it its own personal, unique and contemporary touch.

‘Painting portraits is my real passion,’ Peter says, ‘but do not underestimate the glorious feeling of landscape painting under the blue sky of Tuscany or in the south or France’.

‘It is time for something else,’ he said. It is time for large ‘Vintage Portraits’. At first coloured portraits, but gradually less colour, more close-up and a very own, distinct style. Notice the large brush strokes and later the use of the palette knife. These portraits in sepia colours were sometimes finished with gold leaf. Less color, more light and maximum expression are the elements Peter Engels ads in order to create a state-of-the-art portrait. His work is strong and graphic with a unique touch. Peter Engels portrayed celebrities like Brigitte Bardot, Ernest Hemingway, Elvis Presley, Ursula Andress, Marlon Brando, Mahatma Gandhi, John F. Kennedy, Julia Roberts, Roger Moore, Toots Thielemans, Marilyn Monroe, Jennifer Lopez, The Beatles, Luciano Pavarotti, The Dalai Lama,…

They are all large sepia coloured portraits. He calls them ‘Vintage Portraits’. At first he painted with the brush, later he uses the palette knife. Peter Engels paints portraits of people he admires, people with characteristic features. That is why he painted Nelson Mandela, the man who fought for his cause and was sentenced to lifelong imprisonment, got out after 27 years and still became president. When Mandela turned 90, news agency Reuters decided to put Peter Engels’ tribute to the former South-African president on the largest billboard of the world in Times Square, New York.

Art revolution

Now he goes for quality. Quality in his work and quality in his selection of exhibitions. High quality is his fierce reaction against abstract art, which he says: ‘Contemporary art is very often hiding a lack of knowhow and knowledge, it is hiding and blurring the lack of technique. Some of the big artists cannot paint faces anymore. Instead art is flattened to cheap and populist sensationalism with semi-philosophical explanations. We have a vast majority of art critics and art professionals who get caught by these art traps. Time will learn that in order to reanimate ‘Art’ (with capital A) it is time for an ‘Art Revolution’. Back to beauty, back to value, back to quality. The pendulum is bound to return to the centre. The art collector of tomorrow is fed up with incompetence.’


In 2008 Peter Engels generated international success when his Nelson Mandela portrait appeared on Reuter’s biggest billboard of the world on Times Square, New York, when Mandela became 90. This art stunt boosted Peter Engels’ international artistic career. ‘The fact that my Nelson Mandela painting appeared on Times Square changed my career completely,’ Peter Engels says. Hundreds of newspapers, magazines, radio and TV stations all over the world reported. More than twenty two thousand websites mentioned the event. After that the road to success was open for Peter Engels.

Distinct contemporary style

The reason why European artist Peter Engels is always successful is probably due to the combination of his unique figurative style, his expert pallet knife technique, his thick, graphic strokes, his sparsely sepia coloured palette and his unique positioning of the head on the canvas.

This results in the original, contemporary and pioneering character of his work. His canvases refer to artistic sepia photography and the large hand painted cinema billboards. This artist has a fresh look at knife-painted portraiture. The expressions almost always tell nostalgic and moving life stories.

Peter Engels can be considered as contributing to the revival of portrait and figure painting in a unique contemporary style of his own. In his hands it seems as if the long lost art of portrait painting is rising from its ashes like a phoenix.

The 3 secrets of successful Art collecting

Peter Engels’ Vintage Portraits, sell rapidly. Collectors follow him closely and like to include his work in their collections. Members of listings like Forbes, Fortune and Quote have commissioned their paintings directly from Peter Engels.

‘First of all, art collectors love the direct and friendly contact,’ Peter Engels says. ‘Collecting art is about the relationship with the artist. I invite my clients in my atelier. Gradually they will become friends.’

‘And secondly, art collecting is all about witnessing the birth and progress of the masterpiece that you are going to purchase.’

‘Art collecting is also drinking a glass of wine or smoking a Cuban with the artist while discussing art in his atelier. Collecting art is all about the memorable moments with the artist that add an important dimension to that work of art. Art collecting is having fun in the first place. The fact that your collectible would be worth more some day is an asset I am working on every day,’ Peter Engels says.

The Grace Kelly portrait sold to Prince Albert of Monaco

May 2009: Princess Grace Kelly would have become 80 that year. As a tribute, Peter Engels painted her ‘Vintage Portrait’, a most impressive canvas that was on exhibition in the famous Monte Carlo Casino and auctioned by Sotheby’s in Monaco.

Before the auction Grace Kelly’s son, His Highness Prince Albert II of Monaco met with Peter Engels and admired the painting. Peter Engels gave the prince his art book. When the auction started there was a bidding duel between the Mayor of the medieval village of Eze and the Monaco Palace. When Sotheby’s auctioneer hammered the work as the absolute top of the auction, it appeared that none other than Prince Albert of Monaco bought the beautiful portrait of his deceased mother, Princess Grace. At the same time Peter Engels’ painting was sold for the highest bid of the entire auction (see video).

Peter Engels: ‘This painting is my tribute to one of the most beautiful, stylish, classic women ever. I paint my portraits with the palette knife in my typical sepia colours, which gives this Grace Kelly portrait its intense vintage look.’ Once more Peter Engels masterly painted the soul into this grand Grace Kelly portrait. For the Monaco port anno 1955 (in the background of the painting), Peter Engels based on images from Hitchcock’s thriller ‘To Catch a Thief’ (see video) to paint the stunning view by night over the Monaco bay.

Prince Albert of Monaco buys Grace Kelly painting from Peter Engels

Painting heart and soul

‘I mostly like to paint the characteristic portraits of famous actors, writers, politicians, businessmen, musicians.’ says Peter Engels. But he also paints commissioned works: beloved ones, husbands, relatives…

It is fascinating to see how the thousands of knife strokes gradually form a face and bear the unmistakable signature of the master. Peter Engels says about this himself: ‘I want to capture that bright, glorious look or expression so that the faces shine, show emotion and really seem to live.’ (See video)

About the painting of Nelson Mandela on Times Square in New York, the international press said that Peter Engels does not only paint the mere physical features, but that he succeeds in capturing the character, the heart and soul of Mandela.

Why adding art by Peter Engels to your collection?

Peter Engels himself calls his paintings ‘Vintage Portraits’ as he always has famous people posing for him. The ‘vintage’ aspect is reinforced by the sepia tones he uses.

Paintbrushes are of no use here. Peter Engels exclusively paints with the palette knife, conferring the oeuvre a kind of three-dimensionality and a texture that catches the light beautifully. This adds to the conspicuously handmade aspect of the canvases and is in sharp contrast with mass produced images. (See video)

The knife strokes are so large that the painting seems abstract from a short distance. When watching Peter Engels’ work, do this exercise: look at the work from up close and then gradually step back and view it from a distance. The effect is impressive! Typical features of his very own style are the big close-ups where eyes and mouth are primordial. The rest is decor and falls off the canvas.

Peter Engels wants to paint intensively, exhibit worldwide and show his work at the best international art fairs like Art Basel (Basel and Miami), Frieze and the Armory.

Meeting and painting Karl Lagerfeld

You can guess what happened when Peter Engels, walking past The Mercer Hotel in Soho, New York, accidentally bumped into Karl Lagerfeld. This meeting resulted in an impressive canvas of the flamboyant Lagerfeld: sunglasses, bow tie, white ponytail… Exactly the colour palette that Peter Engels likes to use.

In this painting fashion icon Karl Lagerfeld gazes to the viewer through his dark glasses. We barely see his eyes. It is the look of the model, posing and gazing at the painter.

In the background Peter Engels painted a blurry city skyline alongside a river. Is it New York where he met Karl Lagerfeld? Or is it Lagerfeld’s hometown Paris? A few touches of red add the only bright colour to the painting and gives it its depth.

Later when Karl Lagerfeld and Peter Engels met again, Lagerfeld spoke the historical words: “A mirror reflects my face. This painting reflects my soul.“

The Michael Jackson painting started to cry

On the Indonesian island of Lombok, Michael Jackson was immortalized on a large canvas. Looking at the painting you feel the pain. The passion explodes from the canvas. Engels mixed Lombok beach sand for extra texture to the paint.

Later the Michael Jackson portrait was water damaged in a French art gallery during a nightly storm. As a result, it looks as if Michael cries. As if teardrops roll down his face.

It looks like a supernatural phenomenon. As if Michael Jackson wants to tell us something from the grave. Artist Peter Engels is not superstitious, but he thinks that the tears give the painting an extra dimension. The artist tries to find a plausible explanation for this: “I painted this portrait on the island of Lombok. To give the paint more texture, I mixed beach sand in it. Normally oil and acrylic paint can tolerate a splash of water. But apparently not when it is mixed with this sand.”

Michael Jackson’s right eye started to tear when rainwater seeped in the gallery where the artist had an exhibition. Artist Peter Engels: “I will leave it this way. Mother Nature gave the painting the perfect finishing touch.”

Admiration helps to paint an outstanding portrait.

Peter Engels painted pop music icon Madonna as his version of the Mona Lisa: with a soft and mysterious smile, in sharp contrast to the stage beast that we know.

The very last portrait of tenor Luciano Pavarotti was painted in Italy by Peter Engels, just a few weeks before the world-famous singer passed away.

The portrait of Robert De Niro with cigar is intriguing. The painted canvas is rough; the expression on De Niro’s face says it all. It does not resemble, but is Robert De Niro. The painting was published on the cover of an exclusive  cigar magazine.

Peter Engels also met and painted Roger Moore, Toots Thielemans and many more…

Peter Engels painted Hippocrates, the father of medicine. An art collector bought the painting before it was dry. Engels studied the few remaining sculptures that were made of the ancient Greek philosopher and brought him back to life on a large canvas. The penetrating and breath-taking magnum opus is quite contemporary at the same time. The painting actually conceals Hippocrates’ wise words. In Greek, obviously: ‘Let Your Food Be Your Medicine’. Watch the VIDEO

What better moment for celebrity portrait painter Peter Engels to have business tycoon Richard Branson model for him than during a two and a half hour interview? Peter Engels: ‘It seemed the perfect opportunity to have Richard Branson pose for me. Charming lady Marlène de Wouters interviewed him, but most of all, she easily kept Richard Branson smiling for a couple of hours, which was just enough for me to finish the painting.’ In front of an international audience of 1,600 journalists, politicians, students and entrepreneurs,  Peter Engels painted Richard Branson’s close-up portrait on a large canvas (100x200cm). In the background we see the Antwerp skyline by night. The painting was signed by Richard Branson himself, making this piece of art an even more desirable collector’s item. (see video)

In the fall of 2012 Peter Engels finished the Vintage Portrait of Belgian royalty Princess Astrid, sister of the Belgian King Philippe. Peter Engels was invited to her villa in Brussels for a chat and a photo shoot (see video).

In December 2012 Nicole Kidman lived in Peter Engels’ home village, Brasschaat. She stayed just 500 meters from his atelier and used to jog down his street. Nicole Kidman was there to shoot some of the scenes for her new movie, ‘Grace of Monaco’. The story is about Grace Kelly’s involvement with Monaco’s Prince Rainier and France’s Charles De Gaulle dispute over tax laws in the early 1960s. This painting is a tribute to both Nicole Kidman and Grace Kelly. Watch the sunlight shining delicately through the holes in the straw hat, creating some beautiful claire-obscure effects onto the skin.

Unique and distinctive style

Peter Engels’ artistic uniqueness is highlighted in the way he frames his subjects on canvas, an act of revolutionary creativity. His sepia colorite, his extraordinary style and his particular style of painting with a palette knife are his unique signature. (see video)

Peter Engels goes beyond merely painting the physical features. He captures the inner soul. Peter Engels’ ‘Vintage Portraits’ have a rare quality and style, as well as a contemporary artistic, mature look. The art of portrait painting literally receives a new phase, a fresh look in Peter Engels’ work. As if portrait painting rises from the dust like a phoenix.

We have never seen this particular style before. It is new and unique. We recognize a Peter Engels by his style: the sparse colour palette, the use of the thick knife strokes, the position of the heads on the canvas, the large close-ups and the fact that he calls them Vintage Portraits. Peter Engels’ style inspires many artists around the world.

Painting portraits like Peter Engels does is profoundly artistic. It requires skill and technique. It requires talent, vision and style. It is creative. And it is not ‘l’art pour l’art’. No sensationalism. No pseudo-philosophy explanation needed. This art speaks for itself. This is pure quality work with a rich composition and a talented, swift technique. Keywords like ‘high quality’ and ‘highly virtuous’ come to mind. See video of the portrait of thiller author Bob Mendes.

Quote by the Artist about the flash in an infinite universe.

PETER ENGELS: ‘The most beautiful thing about painting Vintage Portraits is the capturing of an emotion. The perpetuation of that significant though brief moment, merely a flash in the infinite universe, I find that quite fascinating. My paintings make people immortal. People who make a difference: famous, infamous, loved, hated, known or unknown. The life stories are all unique with a deep meaning and a charged atmosphere. I like to combine this with a specific and contemporary style, a strong technique and a sepia colorite so that my work is recognizable at first glance.’

Vintage sculptures

Some of the large Vintage Sculptures by Peter Engels are based on his paintings. For the 50 year anniversary of James Bond Peter Engels created the Vintage Sculpture of Sean Connery called ‘Bond #1’. To celebrate his love for the South of France he gave life to the Brigitte Bardot sculpture called ‘Saint-Tropez’. Peter Engels also makes Vintage Sculptures on demand, signed by the artist and accompanied by a certificate of authenticity.

These sculptures are made of rusty, industrial looking, durable Corten steel that is composed of iron, copper, phosphorus, silicon, nickel and chromium. One sculpture approximately weighs  3.000 kg or 6.600 lbs. The concrete base of the structure can be invisibly buried under ground. Choose the right, light enough and neutral background to place these see through sculptures. At night well lit Vintage Sculptures are fairylike and festive.

Peter Engels plans to make a whole series of these impressive and exclusive Vintage Sculptures. They are the ideal and totally maintenance free art that lends an artistic and sophisticated touch to parks, gardens and squares. These Vintage Sculptures can be transported, delivered and positioned any where in the world.