A sweeping look at the lives and work of two important English Romantic painters, from a Los Angeles Times Book Prize–winning author.
Renowned poet Stanley Plumly, who has been praised for his “obsessive, intricate, intimate and brilliant” (Washington Post) nonfiction, explores immortality in art through the work of two impressive landscape artists: John Constable and J.M.W. Turner. How is it that this disparate pair will come to be regarded as Britain’s supreme landscape painters, precursors to Impressionism and Modernism? How did each painter’s life influence his work?
Almost exact contemporaries, both legendary artists experience a life-changing tragedy—for Constable it is the long illness and death of his wife; for Turner, the death of his singular parent and supporter, his father. Their work will take on new power thereafter: Constable, his Hampstead cloud studies; Turner, his Venetian watercolors and oils. Seeking the transcendent aesthetic awe of the sublime and reeling from their personal anguish, these talented painters portrayed the terrible beauty of the natural world from an intimate, close-up perspective.
Plumly studies the paintings against the pull of the artists’ lives, probing how each finds the sublime in different, though inherently connected, worlds. At once a meditation on the difficulties in achieving truly immortal works of art and an exploration of the relationship between artist and artwork, Elegy Landscapes takes a wide-angle look at the philosophy of the sublime.
Poet Plumly (The Immortal Evening) studies the lives and legacies of English Romantic painters John Constable (1776 1837) and J.M.W. Turner (1775 1851), who he argues are "two of the greatest landscape painters regardless of nation or generation" in this vibrant dual biography. Plumly presents Constable as "a poet of place," whose landscapes especially his renderings of the Stour River valley are steeped in nostalgia for the land's pastoral past; whereas Turner is the more visionary of the two, as evident in his "transformation of landscape into the constituents of light." Not favoring either artist over the other, Plumly compares and contrasts their work over the course of their lives, showing how their origins and ambitions, as well as life events notably the death of Constable's wife in 1828 and the death of Turner's beloved father in 1829 shaped major phases of their careers. The book cries out for more illustration than its eight pages of color art reproduction, but Plumly's poetic prose helps the reader to visualize the works, as when he writes, of Constable's cloud studies, "he sees the equivalent of the invisible made visible, something beyond vapor," and of Turner's later paintings that he is "creating landscape as mist, as something ephemeral." Plumly's eye for detail and eloquent powers of description make this book a significant work of art history.