The brother of Anton and Fritz, both Danish artists, Vilhelm Knut Frederik Melbye was born in Denmark and would finish his career as a Professor in the Copenhagen Academy, appointed in 1880. His years between would see him work out of the important venues of Dusseldorf, Venice, Paris and London.
His paintings may almost be used as a travelogue to his career. Working in the Netherlands and paintings scenes of the North and Black Seas through the late 1840s, he exhibited regularly at Charlottenborg in Copenhagen. Melbye lands in London by the early 1850s and ‘anglicizes’ his signature to Wilhelm Melby. Paintings by him of Gibraltar and the Italian Mediterranean are in prominent public collections with dates from 1854-62. British subjects reappear in the 1860s, and in 1878, he exhibits at the Parisian Academies. Some later works are signed with initials or his given name once again.
The heart of all his paintings is his obvious attraction to the coastal harbors and marine settings of Europe. They dominate his output, and are compositions full of realistic and dramatic elements emphasizing humanity’s maritime efforts. Cool light, layered shadows and a talent for translating visual depth are noticeable elements in his paintings.