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Charles Caryl Coleman carte-de-visite – AA/PG Library

Charles coleman rv sm

Recto: Charles Caryl Coleman  (born Buffalo, NY, 1840; died Capri, Italy, 1928)

Verso: Carte-de-visite photographer: Lorenzo Suscipj (1802-1885), Rome, Italy

A native of Buffalo New York and nephew of an auctioneer and gallery owner, Charles Caryl Coleman began his artistic training from William H. Beard, a local painter. However, in 1856 he traveled to Paris and after three years then went to Florence where for two years he studied at the Accadèmia Galli.  While in Florence he became close friends with Elihu Vedder, another American artist.  When the American Civil War broke out, he returned to the United States in September 1862 to serve in the 100th Regiment of the New York Volunteers. However, in 1863 he was shot in the jaw in South Carolina and was discharged honorably. He briefly set up a studio in New York City, but by 1866 he was back in France with his friend Vedder.  By December 1866 Coleman was in Rome where he established a studio for ten years during which he traveled widely in Italy and several times back to the United States.

In 1886 he moved to the island of Capri where he had bought the famous Villa Narcissus.  At Capri, Coleman joined a community of expatriates and later acted as a leader of a colony of American and British painters that were on the island (including Vedder). Coleman also transformed a part of his Villa Narcissus into a "palace of art" filled with antiquities of various ages and his own artwork.

Coleman worked in a realist style, but over time decorative elements progressively entered into his work. His surroundings also naturally influenced him and he incorporated many classical elements and motifs in both his paintings and his hand-crafted frames. Although he focused on portraiture initially, he later turned to still lifes and figural works. He is most known for architectural depictions infused with classical and Italian elements. Coleman was also known for his landscapes—especially of Italian vistas. One notable landscape series featured many views of Mt. Vesuvius and effects of smoke and light on the volcano and the Bay of Naples. He also painted a few murals including one for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

He lived in Capri throughout the rest of his life, but Coleman still kept strong ties to the United States, receiving several commissions from American patrons. Although lesser-known nowadays, his works are held in several museum collections and are prized for their "decorative elegance."—Doug Litts

Sources: Dearinger, David B., ed. Paintings and Sculpture in the Collection of the National Academy of Design.  New York: Hudson Hills, 2004.

Greer, Gina and Andrea Smith.  American Paintings 1860-1940.  New York: Vance Jordan Fine Art, 2000.

Stebbins, Theodore E., Jr. The Lure of Italy: American Artists and the Italian Experience 1760-1914.  New York: Abrams, 1992.

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