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

Evening in Gloucester Harbor

Details
Francis Augustus Silva (1835-1886)
Silva, Francis Augustus
Evening in Gloucester Harbor
signed and dated 'Francis A. Silva 1871' (lower left)--inscribed with title on artist's calling card attached to the stretcher
oil on canvas
20 x 40 in. (50.8 x 101.6 cm.)

Lot Essay

Francis Augustus Silva's Evening in Gloucester Harbor gleams with the brilliance of American luminist painting. Among the nineteenth- century painters of marine subjects, Silva stands out due to his capacity to render his subjects with light and magnificence. At the core of luminist paintings is the importance of light, both as a formal device as well as a method to imbue each work with a higher meaning. "In the hands of Silva and some others, 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. That Silva was aware of this extra dimension to light 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 only 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 Luminsim," in Antiques, November 1980, p. 1018)

The magnificent expanse of the harbor in Gloucester, Massachusetts has been an inspiration to generations of American artists. It held particular significance for artists of the nineteenth century who, like Francis Silva, derived a majority of their subject matter from the landscape that surrounded them. "Harbours and shipping seem always to have held a vague fascination for the painter who enjoyed the pictorial suggestiveness of houses, wharves, water and their infinite possibilities for artistic arrangement. The hills of East Gloucester, looking down on the harbour, likewise give the painter splendid themes for spotting, spacing and that variety of form which is so necessary to design." (E. Clark as quoted in S. Shipp, American Art Colonies, 1850-1930, Westport, Connecticut, 1996, p. 37)
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