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Francis Augustus Silva

 (1835 - 1886)
Francis Augustus Silva was active/lived in New York.  Francis Silva is known for coastal views, marine and landscape painting.

Francis Augustus Silva

Biography from the Archives of askART

Biography photo for Francis Augustus Silva
Born in New York, Francis Silva was a second generation Hudson River School* painter, who did much painting along the Hudson River and along the coastline from Chesapeake Bay to Cape Ann, Massachusetts.  His earliest known painting is titled Cape Ann.

He became one of the leading marine painters of the luminist* style of the mid to late 19th century, especially known for his brilliant sunsets with atmospheric* effects.  Of him, it was written: "For Silva, the subtle manipulation of light and atmosphere was an aesthetic device that transcended naturalism and became an almost abstract means of expressing sentiment." (Zellman, 265)

Francis Silva was the son of a barber who had emigrated from Madeira to New York in 1830.  He showed early art talent  and with no apparent formal training, he apprenticed to a sign painter in New York and decorated fire wagons, vans, stagecoaches, etc.  He also exhibited pen and ink drawings at the American Institute.

In 1861, he enlisted in a New York militia and became a Captain of the Ninth New York Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War.  He was stricken with malaria, and, wrongfully accused of desertion, received a dishonorable discharge.  He applied for reinstatement, which was granted, and then received an honorable discharge.

In 1865, he began his career as fine artist, and in 1868 made his debut at the National Academy of Design's* annual exhibition.  That same year, he married Margaret Watts of Keyport, New Jersey.

From that time, he received much acclaim for his serene, atmospheric marine paintings, and his later paintings tended towards Impressionism in style.  In 1872, he was elected to the American Watercolor Society*. 

Francis Silva maintained his studio in New York but moved to New Jersey in 1880.  He died in 1886.

Sources include:
Michael David Zellman, 300 Years of American Art
Peter Falk, Who Was Who in American Art

* F
or more in-depth information about these terms and others, see Glossary

Biography from Modern Art Dealers
Francis A. Silva was born on October 4, 1835 in New York City and died March 31, 1886.  He was one of two children born to Francis John Silva.  Little is known about his mother except that she was born in New York.  As a schoolboy, Silva exhibited pen drawings at the American Institute.  Silva's parents, however, did not want him to pursue art as a career, so he apprenticed to several trades before ending up with a sign painter.  He worked in that trade until the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861.

Silva wouldn't begin his art career until after service in the Seventh Regiment of the New York State Militia during the Civil War.  Advancing from lieutenant to captain, Silva was soon stricken with "miasmatic disease."  He was dishonorably discharged for desertion when he left his regiment, but was soon reinstated.

In 1868, Silva married Margaret A. Watts in Keyport, New Jersey.  His debut as a painter was at the National Academy of Design's annual exhibition of 1868-1869.  Silva developed a reputation as a marine painter.  He became known for exaggerating and intensifying natural effects of light and air for poetic purposes.  His subtle manipulation of light and atmosphere was an aesthetic device that transcended naturalism and became an almost abstract means of expressing sentiment.  Silva became known as one of the leaders in the American Luminist movement.

By 1870, Silva had evolved from a self-taught artist, to one with a remarkably skillful technique and a repertoire of marine subject and atmospheric effects that varied little for the rest of his life. "We have few artists who are so accurate in drawing or so conscientious in the rendering of detail," an Art Journal critic wrote in 1880.  His luminous technique led to his election to the American Water Color Society in 1872. Just before he died in 1886, Silva painted A Summer Afternoon at Long Branch (1885, National Gallery of Art), considered his masterpiece.

American Water Color Society

Broad Street Trust, Boston
Brooklyn Museum
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts

Biography from Roger King Fine Art
Francis Augustus Silva was a Luminist painter of the "second generation" of Hudson River School painters.  He probably had no formal training, but he was apprenticed to a sign painter and went on to paint decorative and landscape panels for stagecoaches and fire wagons.

In 1868 he began a career as an artist after his marriage, exhibiting at the National Academy of Design and the Brooklyn Art Association.  His primary interest was in marine and coastal scenes, and he traveled extensively along the Northeast coast, particularly to Cape Ann in Massachusetts and Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island, as well as along the Hudson River and along the New Jersey shore.

His carefully constructed compositions are characterized by their sense of tranquility and even wistfulness, along with a fastidiously rendered receding perspective shared by colleagues Fitz Henry Lane and Martin Johnson Heade.

His compositions are carefully constructed, leading the viewer's eye to the far distance, often via the device of a lone figure in a sailboat situated in the canvas foreground. His paintings are known for their sense of tranquility and their poetic and nostalgic nature. Silva especially liked to portray the intense light effects of sunrise and sunset, using vibrant shades of pinks, oranges, and yellows.

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About  Francis Augustus Silva

Born:  1835 - New York City
Died:   1886
Known for:  coastal views, marine and landscape painting

Essays referring to
Francis Augustus Silva

Hudson River School Painters