Francis Augustus Silva (1835 - 1886)

Francis Augustus Silva (1835 - 1886)

The son of an immigrant barber, Francis Augustus Silva was born in New York City and, after considering several career paths, was later apprenticed to a sign painter. He pursued the trade in earnest and eventually opened his own shop by the time he was twenty-three. In 1861, Silva enlisted in the Seventh Regiment of the New York State Militia, quickly advancing to the rank of Captain before an illness forced him to leave the service a year later. He rejoined the army by January of 1865, and after the war married Margaret A. Watts and settled in Brooklyn, where he listed himself in the city directory as “artist.” Although he still had no formal training, Silva began painting landscapes and exhibited his first piece at the National Academy of Design in 1868. He would continue showing there annually until his death in 1886, and also exhibited at the Boston Art Club in 1883 and with the Brooklyn Art Association between 1869 and 1885.

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Silva traveled abroad to Venice at least once during his lifetime, but spent the majority of his career exploring and painting the length of the Atlantic seaboard from New Jersey to New Hampshire, cataloguing his journeys in sketchbooks now in the collection of the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts. Similar to American Luminist marine painters Fitz Henry Lane and Martin Johnson Heade, Silva painted quiet, tranquil compositions with a focus on light and atmosphere, and also went one step further, infusing emotion and drama into his work to capture the poetic effect of Nature. 

Today Silva’s paintings can be found in several museum collections, including the Terra Foundation for American Art in Chicago, Illinois, the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester, New Hampshire, and the Brooklyn Museum in New York. 

References: See Groce and Wallace; Kornhauser, American Paintings before 1945 in the Wadsworth Athenaeum (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1996); “Francis A. Silva: Beyond Luminism,” by John I. H. Baur. Antiques. November 1980, pp. 1018-1031.

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