At the height of his career, William Posey Silva was recognized as one of the leading Impressionistic landscape painters of his day. However, painting was a second career for Silva, one that he did not begin until relatively late in life. Silva was born in Savannah, Georgia in 1859. As a young man, he initially studied engineering, but later took over the family’s china business following the death of his father. Silva successfully ran the business in Chattanooga, Tennessee from 1887 to 1907, during which time he painted recreationally. As an amateur artist, Silva recorded many panoramic views of the Tennessee mountains as well as painting coastal scenes of his native Savannah. Encouraged by his wife, Silva left the china business in 1907 when he was forty-eight and moved to Paris to pursue a career as a professional artist.
In Paris, Silva studied at the Académie Julian with Jean Paul Laurens and Henri Royer. He also sought out and studied under fellow American and landscape painter Chauncey Ryder, who was also living in France. Silva’s artistic career was soon a success with showings at the Salon d’ Automne in 1908 and a solo exhibition at the Georges Petit Gallery in 1909. The following year, the artist returned to Chattanooga and won the silver prize at the Appalachian Exposition held in Knoxville, Tennessee. In 1910 he traveled to the Northeast and spent time in New York City as well as in Massachusetts where he studied with Arthur Dow. After a brief time in Washington, D.C., Silva and his wife moved to Carmel, California in 1914.
Silva built a studio in the sand dunes of the picturesque coastal town, which was gaining the reputation of an artists’ colony. While he made California his primary home for the next thirty-five years, Silva often revisited the Southeast maintaining close ties with the Southern States Art League and with his hometown. In 1917 he was given a solo exhibition at the Telfair Academy in Savannah, and in the 1920s he participated in the Charleston Renaissance, visiting the Carolina Lowcountry and producing many romantic views of the area. Silva often painted en plein air, recording his scenes with rapid, colorful brushstrokes, and his Impressionistic style was well suited to capturing the distinct feel of coastal marshlands. In addition to Savannah and Charleston, Silva also visited Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Texas, and Louisiana in search of inspiration. He died in California in February of 1948.