Francis Augustus Silva is best known for his scenes of brightly lit shipwrecks along the East Coast. He was born to an immigrant barber in New York and did not receive any formal painting instruction but showed artistic talent from an early age. His father didn’t think that artistic painting would earn him a living so he forbade him to paint artistically. Francis was only allowed to paint signs on wagons, stage coaches and signs.
When he was only 13, he took his ink drawings to be exhibited at the Annual Fair of The American Institute in New York. Francis Silva set up a studio in 1858 but did not work for long he was soon called to serve in the war. He left the military 10 years later and married Margaret Watts. He revived his studio and started painting avidly.
Although he spent a lot of time in his studio in New York, he frequently traveled east in painting expeditions. He would regularly visit the Boston Harbor, New London harbors, Westchester, Narragansett Bay, Cape Ann, Narragansett Bay, the Hudson River and Boston so that he could get material to paint. There is one painting of the Lake Michigan harbor. His paintings were luminous and they were almost all of shipwrecks.
Francis Silva loved to visit the New York harbor and paint there, and he exhibited pictures of the Brooklyn and Long Island harbors in the Brooklyn Art Association Exhibitions. In 1880, he moved to live in New Jersey but maintained his studio on 10th Avenue.
Art critics describe his works as meticulously realistic, portraying very real scenes of shipwrecks and contrasting them with tranquil elements all around. He avoids prettiness in his work and instead paints scenes that provoke an emotional reaction.
Francis Silva died in 1886 in New Jersey still painting.