|European Paintings — Carl Ludwig Bille - Shipping of Charlotte Amalie in the Danish West-Indie|
|Carl Ludwig Bille - Shipping of Charlotte Amalie in the Danish West-Indie
Signed lower left: Carl Bille 1868
Medium: Oil on canvas laid down on board
Dimensions: 12.5 x 14.8 inches
This subtle and evocative original oil painting captures the picturesque harbor of Charlotte Amalie, the main harbor of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, just east of Puerto Rico and north of Saint Croix. Gentle mountains rise beyond the bustling port and calm, sapphire-blue harbor, and groups of white-washed wooden buildings indicate the prosperous colonial settlement of this lovely harbor, perhaps one of the busiest in the West Indies. The muted sunlight suggests dusk or perhaps dawn, the dusty-rose tinge of the sky casting a warm glow over the port.
The artist Carl Ludwig Bille portrayed the island when it was still under Danish control, approximately fifty years before the U.S. would purchase the Virgin Islands from Denmark. Bille was in a unique position to create, having been a professional mariner before dedicating himself to this stronger passion that is painting. After working on commercial ships for a number of years, he combined his love of the sea with his love for art, embarking on a successful career as a painter. His work is distinguished by a formidable grasp on realistic detail and naturalism, skills at their height in this splendid and tranquil image.
The Danish were the first to make colonization attempts in the West Indies, and took possession of St. Thomas, the first colony in the islands, in 1666. In 1764, King Frederick V declared St. Thomas a free port. This, together with the Danes' neutral stance, combined to make Charlotte Amalie one of the world's busiest ports and the trading center of the West Indies by 1800. The next few years, however, would prove financially disastrous for the island as a result of natural and political troubles. Yet through it all, trade somehow continued - even flourished - until 1848, when Governor-General Peter von Scholten granted freedom to the slaves. At the same time though progress would see a switch from sail power to steam, and the Virgin Islands, once so necessary as stopover points for sailing vessels, became a backwater. Bille’s painting, therefore, done when Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, and the islands in general were declining, gives a nostalgic view of this splendid harbor, representing it at a level of prosperity it had not experienced for some time. Sailing ships, not steam-powered boats, inhabit the waters, and onshore all is still serene colonial affluence. This quiet and splendid image represents a St. Thomas that had already disappeared, and would not resurface until the revival sparked by the 20th century’s tourist industry.