Object of the Month

March Object of the Month – Painting by Fritz Melbye



Fritz Melbye, Walled Town on a Hill Above the Sea, date unknown, oil on canvas, 10 x 10 5/8 in., OL.1982.652, Collection Olana State Historic Site, NYSOPRHP

This work by Danish-born artist Fritz Melbye is one of fourteen works currently on loan from Olana to the exhibition Pissarro: A Meeting on St. Thomas on view through July 2, 2017 at Ordrupgaard Museum in Denmark.

The exhibition tells the story of the great Impressionist painter Camille Pissarro’s early years, and of how the Danish Golden Age painter Fritz Melbye (1826-1869) came to play a crucial role in Pissarro’s life and art.  Fritz Melbye was friend of Frederic Church and the two traveled together to Jamaica in May 1865.

Melbye was born in Elsinore, Denmark and trained as a painter under his older brother, Anton Melbye.  He initially painted seascapes in the family tradition his brother had taught him, but he increasingly turned to landscapes, coastal and town views. He preferred a realistic style, often with romantic scenes. He was a frequent exhibitor at Charlottenborg in Copenhagen between 1849 and 1858.

In 1849 he set off for the Danish West Indies, and around 1850 Melbye arrived in St. Thomas. There he encountered a young Pissarro who was growing up on St. Thomas as a Danish citizen, and who he encouraged to take up painting.  The two artists became friends and Melbye served as a mentor to Pissarro as the two artists traveled and painted together throughout the Danish West Indies and later in Caracas, Venezuela.

After several years, the two parted company and Pissarro set off for Europe.  Melbye stayed until 1856 and then briefly returned to Europe, living some time in Paris, before traveling to North America where he set up a studio in New York City, and presumably met Frederic Church.

After their sojourn together in Jamaica, Melbye set off on a journey in 1866 to the Far East in search of new adventures, leaving his studio in Church’s care. In Asia he used Peking as a base for travels around the region, where he was commissioned to paint the Imperial Summer Palace.  His travels also extended to Japan. He died in Shanghai 1869.

Among the studio contents entrusted to Church were a series of sketches by Melbye and Pissarro, executed in those early years on St. Thomas.  For decades Church kept the works safe in his own studio, and then later moved them up to Olana.  They continued to remain intact throughout the tenure of Louis and Sally Church, and even as Olana, itself was preserved in 1966 as a museum.

The result is that Olana owns a significant collection of works by both Pissarro and Melbye, a selection of which have been loaned for this exhibition.  Paintings by both Melbye and Pissarro will also be featured in the upcoming exhibition Overlook: Teresita Fernández Confronts Frederic Church at Olana, opening in the Sharp Family Gallery, May 14, 2017.

For more information on the exhibition in Denmark click here.

To learn more about highlights of the collection click here.

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