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The River

Sylvester - The River
Frederick Oakes Sylvester
(American, 1869-1915)
The River
1904
oil on canvas
(2008.170)
Transferred from the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Administrative Services, MU

Known as the painter and poet of the Mississippi River, Sylvester frequently portrayed the great waterway, including the landscapes and towns that flanked it. In 1902 he purchased a small summer cottage near Elsah, Illinois, where he then painted each summer. This view probably portrays a portion of the river not far from Elsah, looking toward Missouri. A bright blue patch and delicate peach tones punctuate the sky, which occupies more than two-thirds of the composition. Dark ominous clouds practically obliterate the setting sun, whose fleeting brilliance is reflected in the river below. Wooded bluffs and spurs of land extend into the river from the left and right, framing the composition. Sylvester saw his paintings as "reverently hewed-out interpretations of the very spirit of the Mississippi and the country over which the river presides."

Frequently referred to as a transcendental regionalist or realistic impressionist, Sylvester's artistic style reflects the influence of the Hudson River School of landscape painting, which sought to represent the presence of God in nature. His observations of changing light and atmosphere recall the Impressionist interest in light and shadow. This is, however, modified by a limited palette, soft painterly strokes and the subjective approach of Tonalism. While representing a specific place in time, this riverscape approaches nature in a contemplative manner that is more about the mood felt by the artist than the specific details of the river and land.

Sylvester was born in Brockton, Massachusetts, and received training as an art educator at the prestigious Massachusetts Normal Art School in Boston. Following this, he taught at Newcomb College in New Orleans (the women's division of Tulane University) in 1891-1892, and began depicting the Mississippi River, which preoccupied him the rest of his life. In 1892 he moved to St. Louis to teach art at Central High School and at Principia College in Illinois.

This particular work was was exhibited at the Saint Louis World Exposition in 1904.

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