The life of the expatriate artist is a strange one: you run off and leave your culture, language, family, friends —all to pursue your muse, whatever it is that attracts you about somewhere else in the world, somewhere else that you must be in order to do that which you must do. In the case of Charles Caryl Coleman, that attraction seemed to be the anachronistically bucolic scenery in the Bay of Naples; not the classical statues and temples of antiquity, but the even older scenes of the land, itself, the colors, the water, the fields and those working in the fields —all those things that never change, or at least change even more slowly than empires rise and fall.
Coleman was born in 1840 in Buffalo, New York, and died on Capri in December of 1928 after spending 60 years of his life painting scenes of the island. His landscapes and portraits show just how under the spell of the area he was; his paintings —Early Morning-Capri, The Capri Girl, In the Garden of Villa Castello, Vesuvius from Pompeii, A View of the Castello of Capri, Capri Terrace near the sea— are gloriously unaware of such late-19th-century and early 20th-century trends in art as abstraction. His works are found in many places in Europe and the US, and they are prized. (His Women in the Wheat Fields, Anacapri [top photo] sold in 2004 at a Christie’s auction for $600,000.)
studied art with Andrew Andrews and W.H. Beard in
Buffalo in the 1850s. He then traveled to Paris to study
for three years under the influential painter and
teacher, Thomas Couture, before returning to America in
1862 to enlist in the Union army in the Civil War. He
returned to Paris in 1866 and then traveled around
France, Spain and Italy. Before settling on Capri,
Coleman lived in Venice and Rome and some of his works
are from that period. His home on Capri was the Villa
Narciso [Narcissus], which he converted in 1870 from the
premises of the old Santa Teresa convent.
Coleman produced about 300 paintings, and many of them are in collections in the United States. In an 1899 review of a Coleman exhibition in New York City, the reviewer (Charles de Kay) wrote:
In 1910, in the latter part of his life, Coleman fell ill and was not expected to live; yet, he did and carried on for almost another two decades, playing the role of the eccentric artist, presenting himself in outlandish dress to house-guests, throwing parties and generally having a good time right to the end. Charles Caryl Coleman is buried on Capri.
From his island home Mr. Coleman has watched the mass of Vesuvius with its plume of smoke through all the changing seasons of the year, and through the varied lights and shades of the twenty-four hours from sunrise to sunrise. He has eight small views in pastel and oil which he calls the “Songs of Vesuvius.” In one we see how Winter has laid about the smoking crater a band of snow. In another the brilliant foliage of Autumn near the foreground makes a charming contrast with the clouds that hang about the summit. In a third we see what tricks the north wind plays with smoke and cloud masses as they train from the peaks of the volcano directly across the bay toward Capri. In another picture we see Ischia like a delicate violet mass between the sky and the dark-blue Mediterranean, while the foreground is a bit of Capri, some terrace near the sea, with a couple of village girls for an ornament. But Vesuvius dominates the Bay of Naples, though for the most part its domination is of a gentle sort...His pictures are happy in color and subject, like the warm sunshine of Capri and the tints of its crags and sea.