Francis Augustus Silva

Artist Biography

Luminist painter best known for harbor scenes along the East Coast

By Eve Perry

The Luminist painter Francis Augustus Silva is best known for his poetic, intensely lit scenes of boats and shipwrecks along the East Coast.

I. Biography
II. Chronology
III. Collections
IV. Exhibitions
V. Memberships
VI. Suggested Resources

I. Biography

The son of an immigrant barber, Francis Augustus Silva was born in New York City in 1835. Silva never received formal training as an artist but manifested artistic talent from an early age. At thirteen he exhibited ink drawings at the Annual Fair of the American Institute of the City of New York. He set up his first studio in 1858, but his career as a painter was put on hold when he joined the New York militia and served in the Civil War. In 1868, Silva was discharged from the military. The same year, he married Margaret A. Watts and had his first exhibit at the National Academy of Design, which marked the start of his painting career.

Throughout most of the 1870s Silva kept a studio in New York City and took frequent painting trips along the East Coast. He developed his brand of dramatically lit, atmospheric Luminism from painting marine subjects at Boston Harbor, Cape Ann, Narragansett Bay, the Hudson River, Boston and especially New York City. His fondness for harbor views surrounding his native city was evidenced in the boat and shipwreck scenes of Brooklyn and Long Island he exhibited at the Brooklyn Art Association exhibitions (1869–1885). Around 1880 Silva moved to Long Branch, New Jersey but kept a studio in the famous Tenth Street Studio Building in New York City. He painted scenes along the New Jersey coasts until his death in 1886.

II. Chronology

1835 Born in New York City
1848–50 Exhibited ink drawings at the American Institute
1858 Set up first studio
1868 Married Margaret A. Watts
1867 Discharged from military service
1868–69 Debuted as a painter at the National Academy of Design’s annual exhibition
1885 Painted what many consider his masterpiece, A Summer Afternoon at Long Branch
(1885; National Gallery of Art)
1870 Around this time, Silva began living and working on the Lower East Side where he
remained for most of the decade.
1872 Elected to American Watercolor Society
1879 Traveled to Venice around this time
1880 Moved to Long Branch, New Jersey; kept studio in New York City
1882–86 Rented studio in Tenth Street Studio Building
1886 Died at age fifty

III. Collections

Brood Street Trust, MA
Brooklyn Museum, NY
Currier Museum of Art, NH
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Peabody Essex Museum, MA
Terra Foundation for American Art, IL
Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid

IV. Exhibitions

1848–50 American Institute
1868–86 National Academy of Design
1869–85 Brooklyn Art Association
1883 Boston Arts Club

V. Memberships

American Water Color Society
Artists’ Fund Society

VI. Suggested Resources

Amon Carter Museum of Western Art, An American collection: works from the Amon Carter
. New York, N.Y.: Hudson Hills Press, 2001.
Bair, John, I.H. “Francis A. Silva: Beyond Luminism,” Antiques 118 (November 1980): 1018–1031.
Falk, Peter Hastings ed. Who Was Who in American Art 1664–1975. Vol. 3. Madison, C.T.: Sound
View Press, 1999.
National Gallery of Art. American paintings from the Manoogian Collection. Washington: National
Gallery of Art; Detroit: Detroit Institute of Arts, c. 1989.
Rose, Francesca, ed. An American point of view: the Daniel J. Terra Collection. Chicago: Terra Museum of American Art; Giverny, France: Musée d’art Américain Giverny; New York, N.Y.: Hudson Hills Press, c. 2002.
Wilmerding, John. American light: the luminist movement, 1850–1875: paintings, drawings, photographs Washington: Harper & Row in association with the National Gallery of Art, 1980.

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