Born in New York City, F.A. Silva was forbidden to paint artistically by his father so he became a successful sign painter. Unfulfilled, at the outbreak of the Civil War, he enlisted in the New York State Militia, serving until 1866. Soon after the war he listed himself as 'artist' in New York, devoting himself to marine views. Essentially self taught, early success awarded him the privilege of exhibiting with the National Academy of Design, the Brooklyn Academy of Art and the American Institute of Art.
Traveling frequently to his favored locations for subject matter, Silva's works often show both New York and New London harbors, Westchester, Narragansett Bay, and a single known western work of Lake Michigan. Later in life, he traveled to Venice, creating marine views there. Around this time he arrived at his mature style, often directly compared with the "vigor and breadth of Winslow Homer".
His luminous paintings are appreciated for their 'meticulous realism' with a tranquil atmospheric elements. In his manipulation of color while avoiding 'artificial prettiness', he instead intensified the genuine effects of nature while expressing personal emotion. Alongside foremost American seascape artists A.T. Bricher and William Trost Richards, Silva represents the pinnacle of American sea painters.