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Francis Augustus Silva

Marine painter Francis A. Silva was born October 4, 1835, in New York City, where he was raised at 125 East Broadway, close to the busy East River docks. Silva revealed his artistic talent at an early age.  He won amateur awards and, at the age of thirteen, exhibited drawings at the Twenty-First Annual Fair of the American Institute. In spite of his talent, his family did not encourage Silva’s art career. After a few disappointing tries at different trades, he eventually found success as a sign-painter’s apprentice. By 1858, he had set up his own shop as an ornamental painter at 619 Houston Street. At the onset of the Civil War, Silva enlisted with the Seventh Regiment of the New York State Militia.

In 1868, he married Margaret A. Watts of Keyport, New Jersey.  They settled in New York where Silva, who never had formal training in art, began his mature career as an artist. Two years later, they moved to the Bay Ridge area of Brooklyn, close to the harbor activity of the Narrows. Beginning in 1868, he was a regular contributor to the annual exhibitions of the National Academy of Design and the Brooklyn Art Association. Silva was elected to the American Watercolor Society in 1872 and the following year, he joined the Artists’ Fund Society. Throughout the 1870s, he traveled up and down the Eastern seaboard from Delaware to Massachusetts, seeking subjects. Among his favorite spots were the widest areas of the Hudson River where he could paint from calm, panoramic expanses of water with gentle mountains in the distance.

Like other artists who later became known as Luminists, such as Fitz Hugh Lane and Martin Johnson Heade, Silva tempered his accurate recording of the details of harbor, river, and shore scenes with his personal interpretation of lyrical effects of light and atmosphere.  He believed that this creative act required a period of gestation—that painting from memory, at least in part, was necessary for a true kinship with the spirit of nature. After moving with his family to Long Branch, New Jersey, in 1880, he spent several years painting the local landscape.  During this time, from 1882 until his death from pneumonia in 1886, he also maintained a New York studio in the famous Tenth Street Studio Building.