Painted in 1871, the present work, The Hudson River Looking Toward the Catskills by Francis Augustus Silva captures the ethereal light of a sunset along the Hudson River. 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. Mark Mitchell writes, "By far the most famous of Silva's themes from this early period was not formal, but geographic: the Hudson Riverhis Hudson River scenes are among his most charming and effective early worksPerhaps the phenomenon is best explained as a serendipitous consequence of time and geography, of Silva's concurrent artistic maturation and awareness of his Hudson River School predecessors on their turf." (exhibition catalogue, Francis A. Silva: In His Own Light, New York, 2002, pp. 33-34)
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...'" (J.I.H. Baur, "Francis A. Silva: Beyond Luminism," in Antiques, November 1908, p. 1018)
Barbara Novak described the qualities of luminism, "Luminist light tends to be cool, not hot, hard, not soft, palpable rather than fluid, planar rather than atmospherically diffuse. Luminist light radiates, gleams, and suffuses on a different frequency than atmospheric lightAir cannot circulate between the particles of matter that comprise luminist light." ("On Defining Luminism" in J. Wilmerding, American Light: The Luminist Movement, 1850-1875, exhibition catalogue, Washington, D.C., 1980, pp. 23-30) In The Hudson River Looking Toward the Catskills, Silva demonstrates his mastery of these characteristics. He paints the setting sun, casting a purple glow between the peaks and into the clouds, hanging lazily above the scene and at the horizon. Silva's attention to detail is evident in his rendering of the subtle gradations of light caused by the hazy evening air. The deep violet on the mountains fades to a much smokier purple at the background. Likewise, the area of the sky from which the sun has disappeared, glows yellow behind the mountains but is a muted blue-green as it meets the clouds. Adding to this sense of immaculate detail and fitting within the luminist aesthetic is Silva's expert rendering of the sailboats and steamships that populate the river.
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)