The River

Frederick Oakes Sylvester (American, 1869-1915)
The River,
Oil on canvas
Transferred from the Office of the Vice
Chancellor for Administrative Services, MU
Height: 51 cm Width: 64 cm

Guiding Questions
What kinds of things come to mind when you think of a river? What rivers can you think of?

Look carefully at this painting. How do you think the artist creates atmosphere in this painting? How do you think you might feel if you were standing on the banks of the river at the moment shown in this painting?

About the Art
This is a painting of the Mississippi River by the artist Frederick Oakes Sylvester. Sylvester often painted the Mississippi River, especially the view from his house in Elsah, Illinois as seen in this painting. He painted the river so often he became known as the “Painter and Poet of the Mississippi River.” Sylvester described his paintings as "reverently hewed-out interpretations of the very spirit of the Mississippi and the country over which the river presides." The way he uses a lighter palette helps the viewer imagine the motion of the water flowing downriver, the fading afternoon light, and the “spirit” of the river.

The Mississippi River is an important geographic feature for the state of Missouri. It flows from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico and shapes the eastern border of the state. The Missouri River is another major river in Missouri that flows west to east across the central region of the state and flows into the Mississippi near St. Louis. Both rivers have been an important means of transportation for North Americans for thousands of years. Native Americans used the rivers as sources of water to build agricultural societies and later Europeans navigated the rivers to explore North America and trade goods and resources along their banks.

About the Artist
Sylvester combines two styles of painting in his work: Regionalist and Impressionist. His observations of changing light and atmosphere recall the Impressionist interest in light and shadow. His Regionalist style is seen in his interest in nature and his choice to paint a specific place in America’s Heartland.

Sylvester was born in Brockton, Massachusetts and later taught art in New Orleans where he started painting the Mississippi River. In 1892 he moved to St. Louis to teach art at Central High School and at Principia College in Illinois, and continued his study of the Mississippi River.

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

Additional Resources
Read more about Sylvester’s life in Elsah and view more of his Mississippi River paintings:

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