Anton Melbye

Anton Melbye (1818-1875), In the Strait of Gibraltar, 1845, Oil on canvas, BS Maritime Art Collection
Anton Melbye (1818-1875), In the Strait of Gibraltar, 1845, Oil on canvas, BS Maritime Art Collection

Shipping in the Mediterranean off Gibraltar, 1845

In his seascapes, Anton Melbye combines a profound study of nature and the exact reproduction of the structure of ships with a sensitive penetration of light and weather conditions at sea. The bizarre triangular rock in the Strait of Gibraltar had a lasting fascination for the well-travelled artist and inspired him to create a large number of pictures in which he varied the atmospheric mood and formally related different types of boats to the characteristic rock at varying distances and sailing positions.

This painting shows that the artist consciously perceived the beginnings of industrialization and elevated it to a pictorial theme. As if in a peep-box, our gaze is drawn across rolling turquoise-green waves to the meeting of a traditional tall ship and a paddle steamer passing each other in the windy Strait of Gibraltar. The steamship with its plume of smoke ploughs out into the Atlantic towards the „New World“ against all odds, while the three-master sails with the wind into the Mediterranean towards the „Old World“ – a significant changing of the guard for the future of shipping in the 19th century. When Melbye painted the picture in 1845, transatlantic steam shipping was just beginning to gain importance. In 1838, the steamships “Sirius” and “Great Western” made the first Atlantic crossing without sails – both ships reached the port of New York on April 23 after 18 and 14 days respectively. A traditional sailing ship, on the other hand, needed around 33 days for this journey. Anton Melbye masterfully stages the performance of the new type of ship, which was built in series from around 1850, and expresses the belief in progress of his era in a picturesque way.