Charles Coleman Caryl, an American artist of Italian origin, was born in Buffalo in 1840. While still very young, he studied painting under William Holbrook Beard, but in 1856, he moved to Paris, where he was a pupil of Thomas Couture.
Returning to the United States in the 1960s to take part in the War of Secession, Coleman opened a studio in New York and exhibited regularly at the Boston Athenaeum and the Brooklyn Art Academy.
The move to Italy
In 1867, he moved to Italy, where he began to frequent the colony of foreign artists, including William Graham, Frederic Leighton, Elihu Vedder, and Thomas Hotchkiss, all of whom were linked to Nino Costa and thus to the Symbolist and Pre-Raphaelite fascination that had spread in Rome with the Golden Club.
Both in landscape painting and decorative works, Italian and Anglo-Saxon artists had gathered around Nino Costa to create an international circle of neo-Renaissance and Symbolist inspiration, which would later lead to the Scuola Etrusca and, later, the In Arte Libertas society.
Soon, Charles Coleman Caryl, who was staying in the flat where John Keats had lived in Piazza di Spagna, became one of the most appreciated artists of the foreign circle and of the Aesthetic movement.
The Floral Panels
Combining the Gothic and Renaissance revival with an extremely light and suspended painting style, executed mainly in watercolour and pastel, he is a refined and elegant interpreter of historical reconstructions, such as the Lute Player, but he is best known for his still lifes of flowers and blossoms which link him to Japanese painting.
His delicate decorative floral panels, dating from the 1970s and 1980s, are criss-crossed by soft flowering branches with white and pink buds, of impalpable workmanship and Pre-Raphaelite suggestions. The Orientalism of these compositions is clearly visible in the choice of vases and decorations of Japanese or Middle Eastern carpets and objects, which also testify to his activity as a collector.
Charles Coleman Caryl, who was highly appreciated for this production in his Roman years, received several commissions from collectors and merchants, especially foreign ones, who visited his studio in Via Margutta. In fact, today, a large number of these still lifes are in the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the Smithsonian in Washington or the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
Capri: scenes and views
Around 1885, Charles Coleman Caryl decided to move to Capri. He used the guest quarters of Villa Narciso as his studio house, where he began to devote himself to luminous views and scenes set against the splendid backdrop of Capri.
Between reconstructions in neo-Pompeian costumes and scenes taken from the island’s everyday life, the American artist still applies his fine, delicate brushstrokes, which often still feature floral compositions and grape vines from the Capri vineyards.
In 1897, he took part in the Venice Biennale with Under the vines – autumn in a garden in Capri and with Yesterday, today, always. In 1911 he was at the International Exhibition in Rome with First rays of the moon – Capri. He remained on the island until the end of his life in 1928, at the age of eighty-eight.