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Francis Augustus Silva (1835-1886)
Francis Augustus Silva (1835-1886)

Clearing Off

Francis Augustus Silva (1835-1886)
Clearing Off
signed 'Francis A. Silva' (lower right)
oil on canvas
20 x 38¼ in. (50.8 x 97.2 cm.)
Birmingham, Alabama, Birmingham Museum of Art, Images of America: The Painter's Eye, 1833-1925, 1991, no. 32
New York, Berry-Hill Galleries, Francis A. Silva: In His Own Light, April 24-June 28, 2002, pl. 38, p. 104

Lot Essay

Executed circa 1883.

Francis Augustus Silva is one of the foremost painters of the Luminist generation, a colleague of such prominent American artists as Fitz Hugh Lane and Martin Johnson Heade. Clearing Off, executed late in his career, circa 1883, displays Silva's remarkable ability to accurately render the subtle effects of the sky and its play on water. It can be remarked that a Luminist painter is one who is primarily concerned with his fascination with nature and portrays air, water, light and sky with great passion and verve. In addition, Luminists like Silva used light as a metaphorical device, introducing a spiritual meaning to their paintings through the use of light.

"In the hands of Silva," one critic wrote, "the subtle manipulation of light and atmosphere was an aesthetic device that transcended naturalism and became an almost abstract means of expressing feeling -- or 'sentiment' in nineteenth-century terminology. Silva was aware of this extra dimension to light, which is apparent in one of his rare pronouncements on art: 'A picture must be more than a skillfully painted canvas; -- it must tell something. Some men can never paint from memory or feeling -- they give us the cold facts in the most mannered way. Many of our artists learn certain artists' tricks and then repeat them continually, with no idea of the deeper meaning of the art, but only of the outside of things, and very trivial things at that. All earnestness of purpose is lost, and with them art becomes a useless field of affectation where their tricks of color and handling are displayed. The subject must convey no sentiment -- call up no emotion, awaken no interest.'" (J.I.H. Baur, "Francis A. Silva, Beyond Luminism,'" Antiques, November 1980, p. 1018)

Clearing Off depicts the crashing waves of the Northeast coast, where Silva spent much of his time when he was not in the Hudson River Valley. The parallels between the works he created in both locales are numerous. As usual, boats are present, one of the hallmarks of Silva's work wherever he was. The sky possesses a life of its own, its upward-curling clouds full of character and movement, much like his sunset pictures, which breathe an ethereal glow. In their treatment of light and atmosphere, Silva's works are among the Hudson River School's most accomplished products.

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