The son of an immigrant barber, Francis Augustus Silva was born in New York City in 1835. Silva never received formal training as an artist but manifested artistic talent from an early age. At thirteen he exhibited ink drawings at the Annual Fair of the American Institute of the City of New York. He set up his first studio in 1858, but his career as a painter was put on hold when he joined the New York Militia and served in the Civil War. In 1868, Silva was discharged from the military. The same year, he married Margaret A. Watts and had his first exhibit at the National Academy of Design, which marked the start of his painting career.
Throughout most of the 1870s, Silva kept a studio in New York City and took frequent painting trips along the East Coast. He developed his brand of dramatically lit, atmospheric Luminism from painting marine subjects at Boston Harbor, Cape Ann, Narragansett Bay, the Hudson River, Boston and especially New York City. His fondess for harbor views surrounding his native city was evidenced in the boat and shipwreck scenes of Brooklyn and Long Island he exhibited at the Brooklyn Art Association exhibitions (1869-1885). Around 1880 Silva moved to Long Branch, New Jersey but kept a studio in the famous Tenth Street Studio Building in New York City. He painted scenes along the New Jersey coasts until his death in 1886.