In The Hudson River Looking Toward the Catskills of 1871, Francis Augustus Silva captured the ethereal light of sunset along the Hudson River, just as he had reached the height of his skills. Silva, who lived in Brooklyn and maintained a studio in Manhattan, made frequent trips up the Hudson River in the 1870s to gather inspiration and subject matter for his painting.
An untrained artist, Silva was one of many American landscapists at the time whose work was infused with a certain spirituality. "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 himself 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 them repeat them continually, with no idea of the deeper meaning of 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," in Antiques, November 1908, p. 1018)
In The Hudson River Looking Toward the Catskills, various boats serenely make their way along the river. To convey perspective in his marine scenes, a favorite device of Silva's was to depict boats that diminish in size as they recede into the distance. In this work, the largest boat leads the viewer directly to a second boat in the middle distance, which again leads the viewer further into the distance and another pair of sailboats.
The majestic Hudson River was painted time and again by numerous American artists throughout the nineteenth century. Among them, Francis Augustus Silva did so with particular skill. Ironically, however, "during his lifetime, Silva never received the critical praise accorded many of his peers. Only in recent years has interest in this somewhat ingenuous painter of luminous, atmospheric sea- and landscapes been rekindled." (M. Halkerston in American Paradise: The World of the Hudson River School, New York, 1987, p. 316)