Shipwreck painting depicts power of nature over humans

April 24, 2018  |  by Bonifas Arts Center

Francis A. Silva, Schooner Progress Wrecked on Coney Island on July 4, 1874, 1875

Francis A. Silva was an acclaimed marine painter, often associated with Luminism, a style of American landscape painting characterized by effects of light in landscapes, through using aerial perspective, and concealing visible brushstrokes. In the painting, Schooner Progress Wrecked on Coney Island on July 4, 1874, this seemingly simple seascape contains complex commentary over man’s relationship with nature.

Silva was interested in the idea of nature’s power over humans. The battered hull of the sailboat Progress lies stranded on the beach on Independence Day, serving as a symbol of a failed attempt to conquer nature. In sharp contrast, the ship in the distance, with its bold sails under full wind, sails unharmed.

Here, nature and fortune work in tandem, randomly choosing who, and what, will succeed. The scene accurately depicts the remains of the lost schooner Progress.

According to contemporary newspaper accounts, there was a violent storm in the New York area on July 4, 1874, which certainly would have been responsible for the destruction of the ship.


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