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.
Michael David Zellman, 300 Years of American Art
Peter Falk, Who Was Who in American Art