Frederick Oakes Sylvester (1869-1915)
Live Man, Live Strong, Another June is Here,
n.d., oil on canvas
Collection of the St. Louis Mercantile Library at the University
of Missouri - St. Louis
Sylvester was known as the painter and poet of the Mississippi River.
He studied at the Massachusetts Normal School in Boston before becoming
an instructor in the art department at Newcomb College in New Orleans. At
Newcomb Sylvester further developed his interest in the Arts & Crafts
movement and created works in metal and tooled leather. He left Newcomb
College and moved to St. Louis in 1892 for a teaching position at Central
High School where he stayed until 1893 when he accepted the position of
Art Director for The Principia, a Christian Scientist school in St. Louis.
Sylvester specialized in paintings of the Mississippi River – a subject
he first explored while living in New Orleans and that became his primary
focus from the moment he arrived in St. Louis. In 1902 he bought a home
in Elsah, Illinois, a small community located high on the bluffs overlooking
the river he loved. Sylvester’s landscapes are typically executed
in a tonalist style, using a limited palette of muted colors to create harmonious,
reductive images infused with quiet beauty. The river became Sylvester’s
muse in every respect; his body of work includes paintings of the Mississippi
River from every conceivable vantage point as well as numerous poems including
his master work, The Great River, a volume of poetry published in 1911.
Along with the regular edition, Sylvester produced a special edition of
one hundred volumes with hand-tooled leather covers that each included an
original watercolor tipped in with the title page.
In this work, Sylvester focuses not on the river, but on the beauty of
the nearby landscape. The rich, vibrant blue of the sky becomes the undertone
for the trees, thereby creating a harmonious color composition. Sylvester
invites the viewer into this cool, breezy scene via the meandering path
which, although nearly overgrown by the advancing grass, still provides
access to the distant trees.