Enamored with the traditional beauty and thriving expatriate art community of Capri, Charles Caryl Coleman spent the last four decades of his life on the island. He purchased Villa Narcissus in 1880 and permanently settled on Capri in 1885. The body of his work during this period consists of still lifes and landscapes, often with native peasant girls, bathed in the strong Italian sunlight of which Twilight and Poppies is a stunning example. "Coleman's paintings were admired for both their decorative elegance and their skill at capturing the picturesque charm of Capri." (E. Hirshler in T. Stebbins, Jr., The Lure of Italy: American Artists and the Italian Experience 1760-1914, Boston, 1992, p. 377)
Coleman was intrigued by Capri's "glimpse of traditional country life that, by the end of the nineteenth century had been lost in many parts of the mainland." (The Lure of Italy: American Artists and the Italian Experience 1760-1914, p. 376) He sought to capture and celebrate the concept of the unchanged society. The two girls in Twilight and Poppies were probably modeled by local provincials and are, according to Adrienne Baxter Bell, wearing the characteristic skirt, blue vest and white blouse of the Capri peasant. The girl on the left carries a water jug that is common in Coleman's work. The delicacy with which Coleman handles the women's facial features is a testament to his skill.
Coleman's mastery of light and color are at their height in Twilight with Poppies. The subtly graded sky radiates a rich yellow settling into a beautiful orange band before meeting the bay of Naples. The vibrant colors of the poppies, trees and women's clothing stands out against the soft luminous backdrop making for a powerful composition. Through the balance of formal elements and allusion to the peaceable cohabitation of man and nature, Coleman captures and idealizes a valued tradition, now almost entirely obsolete, from Capri's long and distinguished history.
The location of Twilight and Poppies is identifiable. According to Adrienne Baxter Bell, "the setting is Cesina, a fertile hillside near the northeast coast of Capri. In the background, we see the northern tip of the mountainous ridge separating the towns of Capri and Anacapri. The vertiginous steps are those of the Scala Fenicia, or Phoenician Steps, which link the two towns. Barely visible on the horizon are the islands of Ischia and Procida." (unpublished letter dated 30 March 2006)
The present work will be included in Adrienne Baxter Bell's forthcoming catalogue raisonné of Coleman's works.