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Sunrise: Marine View

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Sunrise: Marine View

Artist: Francis A. Silva (American, 1835-1886)

Date: 1870
Medium: Oil on canvas
Framed: 20 3/4 x 35 3/4 x 3 1/2in. (52.7 x 90.8 x 8.9cm)
Overall: 15 x 30in. (38.1 x 76.2cm)
Signed: Lower right: 'SILVA'
Credit Line: Museum Purchase
Object number: 85.45
Text Entries

Sunrise: Marine View was painted at the beginning of the career of Francis A. Silva and contains the essential characteristics of his art for the rest of his life—a coastal scene smoothly rendered without rich effects of brush-work or impasto, glowing in the warm golden-orange light of a rising or setting sun, serenely calm with a motionless air suggesting a quietude broken only by the soft rolling of waves and the solitude of an isolated lighthouse. To these, at times, may also be added sailboats or other objects appropriate to the traffic of the bay, river, or coast, but always painted in such a way as to suggest a hushed, unhurried world, which served as an antidote to the super-energized, dynamic, industrialized place America had become in the 1870s and early 1880s.(1) Silva’s career was brief, spanning little more than a decade and a half, and he never became one of the leading figures in the art world of his day. He arrived too late to share the hour of glory of the so-called Hudson River School, for by 1870 the heyday of Asher B. Durand, John F. Kensett, Frederic Church, and Albert Bierstadt had already passed, and he always disliked the foreign styles that were then being imported into America, strongly criticizing both the Barbizon and Impressionist styles. Instead, he followed in the luminist line of F itzhugh Lane and Martin Johnson Heade, perpetuating a technique that subordinated itself to a kind of Emersonian, transcendentalist reverence for Nature, always preferring poetic vision to spectacular, swashbuckling brushwork. Silva’s work is closest to that of another artist who specialized in marine views, Samuel

Colman, his contemporary, whose works were similarly cast aside after the 1880s, only to be rediscovered a hundred years later.(2) Silva’s art probably enjoys more attention now than it did in his own lifetime.

Silva was born in New York City, the son of a barber; his grandfather, Francois Joseph de Lapierre, a Frenchman, painted portraits in Lisbon and Madeira in the early nineteenth century, and Silva’s father immigrated from Madeira to New York in 1830. After being apprenticed to a sign painter, young Silva began doing ornamental painting on stagecoaches, fire engines, and any other place where decorative work was required. He seems to have had no formal training, although the National Academy of Design, by the late 1850s, maintained facilities for the study of art. Nevertheless, by 18 58 Silva was listed in the New York City directory as “Painter.” After serving in the Civil War he set up a studio in New York and exhibited his art for the first time at the National Academy of Design’s annual in 1868 with a work titled Old Wreck at Newport.

In 1870, about the time the Utica picture was painted, Silva moved his studio to Brooklyn, to a site where he could observe the passing ship traffic; by 1873 his studio was once again in Manhattan, at 650 Broadway.(3) In the early 1870s Silva’s work only occasionally attracted the attention of critics and reviewers of exhibitions, but in 1872 he was elected to the newly founded American Watercolor Society and the next year to the Artist Fund Society, suggesting some recognition from his peers. He was one of the first to work seriously in watercolors, which before 1870 had been considered an inferior medium, suitable only for amateurs.

During his career Silva sketched at many coastal areas of the northeastern United States, including Cape Ann, Boston Harbor, Narragansett Bay, Long Island, the mouth of the Hudson River, the New Jersey coast, and the Chesapeake Bay. Sketches made on location were then converted in the studio into larger paintings in oil on canvas. The Jersey coast was long a favorite, and during the last six years of his life he painted its scenes almost exclusively. Sunrise: Marine View may, in fact, record an early visit to the coastal area of New Jersey.


1. The primary study of Silva is John l.H. Baur, “Francis A. Silva, Beyond Luminism,” Antiques, vol. 118 (November 1980), pp. 1018-31.

2. On Colman, see Wayne Craven, “Samuel Colman (1832-1920): Rediscovered Painter of Far-Away Places,” American Art Journal, vol. 8 (May 1976), pp. 16-37.

3. Recently, another version of the Utica painting came to light in a private collection in Arizona. The disposition of the clouds is slightly different, as is the face of the breaking wave. In size (39 ¾  X 19 ½ ”), it is somewhat larger than the Utica painting and in addition to the artist’s signature has the date “1873.”


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