Still Life with Azaleas and Apple Blossoms

Charles Caryl Coleman (American, 1840–1928)


180.3 x 62.9 cm (71 x 24.75 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Oil on canvas

On View

Robert P. and Carol T. Henderson Gallery (Gallery 228)





Charles Caryl Coleman’s Still Life with Azaleas and Apple Blossoms demonstrates the influence of the Aesthetic movement on American painting and decorative arts. The movement originated in Britain in the 1870s and 1880s as a reaction against the Industrial Revolution and mass production. It was characterized by a belief in the spiritual and moral power of beauty and by a desire to improve the quality of everyday life through handsome and well-made furnishings and decoration. Like John La Farge [20.1873], Thomas Wilmer Dewing [34.131], James Abbott McNeill Whistler [42.302], and other exponents of the Aesthetic movement, Coleman strove for beauty in the line, color, and arrangement of the objects in his painting. The overall patterning of his composition, his incorporation of exotic traditions, and the manner in which he planned his painting to harmonize with the room around it demonstrate Coleman’s sympathy with the movement.
An expatriate who lived in Italy for more than fifty years, Coleman was renowned for his beautiful studio in Rome, where he lived until the mid-1880s, and his Villa Narcissus in Capri, where he stayed for the remainder of his life. Both were sumptuously decorated with tapestries, classical antiquities, and ornamental objects from various cultures. The English painter Walter Crane described Coleman’s Roman studio as “the most gorgeous studio of bric-a-brac of any.”[1]Coleman’s interest in the decorative is nowhere more apparent than in the series of large-scale still-life panels he painted in the late 1870s and 1880s.

In his still-life paintings, Coleman often mixed objects from many cultures: Persian fabrics, Turkish carpets, Venetian vases, Japanese fans, many from his own collection. In Still Life with Azaleas and Apple Blossoms, however, he was inspired both in his composition and his choice of objects by the contemporary fashion for Japanese art. Coleman chose a tall, narrow canvas to suggest a Japanese hanging scroll or the panel of a screen. His apple blossoms in a yellow vase intertwine with azaleas in a lustrous Japanese bronze repoussé pot, against a background of kimono fabric. Even Coleman’s initials in monogram in the lower right and the inscriptions “1878” and “Roma” in the gold leaf rectangular cartouches on the lower left recall the seals often found on Japanese scrolls.

Like Whistler, whose famous Peacock Room of 1876–77 (Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.) epitomized Aestheticism, Coleman thought of his composition as an integral part of the decorative scheme for an entire room. This intention is clear from a sketch on the stretcher (the wooden framework supporting the canvas) indicating the position of this painting on a wall and an accompanying penciled note that reads: “From Drawing Room facing fire, right of glass.” He was evidently pleased with Still Life with Azaleas and Apple Blossoms, for he made a near copy in 1879 (De Young Museum, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco).

1. Walter Crane, An Artist’s Reminiscences (London: Methuen & Co., 1907), 129.

This text was adapted from Elliot Bostwick Davis et al., American Painting [], MFA Highlights (Boston: MFA Publications, 2003).


The artist; private collection, California; by early 1980s, private collection, California; October 24, 2000, sale, Christie's, Los Angeles, lot 30; by 2001, with Vance Jordan Fine Art, Inc., New York; 2001, sold by Vance Jordan Fine Art to the MFA. (Accession Date: June 27, 2001)

Credit Line

Charles H. Bayley Picture and Painting Fund, Paintings Department Special Fund, American Paintings Deaccession Fund, and Museum purchase with funds donated by William R. Elfers Fund, an anonymous donor, Mr. and Mrs. E. Lee Perry, Jeanne G. and Stokley P. Towles, Mr. Robert M. Rosenberg and Ms. Victoria DiStefano, Mr. and Mrs. John Lastavica, and Gift of Dr. Fritz B. Talbot and Museum purchase with funds donated by Mrs. Charles Gaston Smith's Group, by exchange