Carl Ludwig Bille was one of the foremost Danish marine artists of his time. Working during the 19th century, Bille captured the many shifting states of the sea with a detailed yet dramatic eye.
Sea life was something very close to Bille’s heart. Before he embarked on an art career, Bille was at first apprenticed as a sailmaker and then went on to pursue a career in the navy. Only after his marriage, when the dangers of a life upon the waves became ever more apparent in the face of wedded bliss, did he set sail for dry land and a career as an artist.
Bille received no formal training, something quite odd for an artist at the time. Denmark was cultivating for itself a reputation as a nation producing fine art, and attending the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts was usually a necessary step for an artist wanting to pursue their passion professionally. Despite lacking this education, however, Bille was close friends with an assistant at the Royal Academy, Carl Dahl (1812-1865). Dahl also held a passion for marine art and would act as a mentor for Bille, guiding him in the technicalities of art and cultivating his natural talent. Together they would begin to dive the depths of Bille’s talent and marry it with the popular style of art at the time.
Bille’s works were praised for his ability to combine a romantic, dramatic atmosphere with a sense of realism which kept his works afloat.
Shadows fall upon waves which, with heaving breaths, raise up ships with finely detailed and precise proportions.
His time as a sailor, it is clear, gave him a knowledge of sea vessels which immensely aided the completion of his works. The drama of the ocean itself is seemingly captured as if Bille is only the vessel through which the true nature of its being is communicated onto the canvas in paint. His choice of colour palette was praised for being a harmonising force, combining theatrical showmanship with an astute knowledge of seafaring life. In particular, Bille held a fascination for the sea at night. It becomes an abyss touched only at the crests with shimmering moonlight. Any leviathan could loom beneath the surface. Shadowed ships become vulnerable.
It was Bille’s ability to blend the romantic with the realistic that distinguished him as one of the finest marine artists of his day. His life as a sailor more than made up for his lack of formal training, for it allowed him to truly understand the scenes he was enlivening - imbuing them with his own experiences.
A number of his works are now moored in the Museum of Copenhagen.
Born in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Married Emmaline Antoinette Bonfils.
Gave up a career as a sailor to pursue art.
Spent long periods at sea, working and honing his craft.
Exhibited various works at Charlottenborg Palace.
Studied under marine painter Carl Dahl.
Birth of son, Vilhelm Bille (1864-1908) who would also become an accomplished marine painter.
Received a scholarship to attend the Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen.
Became a grandfather to Ove Svenson (1880-1976) who became a painter.
Became a grandfather to Willy Bille (1889-1944) who became a painter.
Died in Copenhagen. Buried in Assistens Cemetery.