Bille, Willy (1889-1944)

Bille, Willy (1889-1944)

Willy Bille was a Danish artist caught between the painting legacy of his family and the modern, appealing approaches being taken towards art in the early 20th-century.

Bille was the son of Vilhelm Bille (1864-1908) and grandson to Carl Ludwig Bille (1815-1898). Both men were marine artists, Bille’s grandfather in particular had earned an esteemed reputation for his romantic, yet realistic paintings of ships tossed atop tempestuous tides. Willy Bille, however, was attracted by much more modern modes of painting and a varying array of subject matter. Landscapes, city scenes, and still life were popular motifs in his oeuvre. The French-born impressionism and its successor post-impressionism were the style to which he predominantly turned his brush.

Bustling harbour scenes of his hometown of Copenhagen are fervent flashes of colour upon the canvas, applied with a quicksilver brush. The rustling grass of a deer park is indicated by the abrupt, upwards movement of the brush, throwing down a verdant array of colours. Bille utilises varying levels of impressionistic intention in his works. At times, buildings and nature are only washes of colour of canvas. At other times he applies more detail. Flowers sitting morosely in a vase, staring out the window as if longing for nature, are detailed, with each petal a curved caress of the brush.

Despite all these experimentations, Bille did also honour his family legacy. Marine art produced by him clearly evokes the much more traditional styles of his father and grandfather. He paints with a realism which effectively communicates the immense beauty of the ocean whilst also imbuing it with a romance which celebrates Denmark’s close connection to the ocean. Interestingly, a self-portrait of the artist features one of these works on a canvas in the background, paintbrush wielded by Bille to apply the next stroke. It seems a move of metaverse meaning to incorporate a family painting tradition into a work clearly executed in his more modern mode!

Clearly, Bille could turn his hand to many styles and was very talented at his craft. His success becomes evident in the many exhibitions he participated in within his homeland. He exhibited at the prestigious Charlottenborg Spring Exhibition in Copenhagen 15 times. As well as this Bille was also the recipient of many awards.
Bill’s artistic career began to wind down in the late 1930s, when for personal reasons he had to stop painting full-time. However, he successfully continued the legacy of both his father and grandfather, becoming another Bille with a painterly thrill.


Born in Frederiksberg, Denmark.


Married Hedevig Ferdinandine Andersen.


Awarded Carslon’s Art Prize.


Received a Danish Royal Academy of Fine Art scholarship.


Received a Danish Royal Academy of Fine Art scholarship. Awarded the Lis Jacobsen Residence of Honour.


Died in Copenhagen, Denmark. Buried in Brønshøj Cemetery.

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