Elegy Landscapes

Constable and Turner and the Intimate Sublime

Stanley Plumly (Author)


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.

Book Details

  • Hardcover
  • Forthcoming August 2018
  • ISBN 978-0-393-65150-8
  • 5.5 × 9.3 in / 272 pages
  • Sales Territory: Worldwide

Endorsements & Reviews

“In this erudite and probing study, award-winning poet Stanley Plumly yields new insights into the iconic works of John Constable and J.M.W. Turner, Britain’s greatest landscape artists. In the pastoral nostalgia of Constable and the modernist fury of Turner, Plumly finds a commonality in their quest to depict the sublime. A compelling portrait of two artists whose work continues to startle and amaze.” — Donna M. Lucey, author of Sargent’s Women

“This is a gorgeous book, visually, conceptually, and in the delights of reading. Stanley Plumly, with intimate immersion in the lives, the world, and the art of these two contemporary nineteenth-century artists, treats us to forty-one prose-poem chapters that are rival works of art in themselves: vignettes of intense, informed imagination, beautifully explicated, delicately informed, sympathetic, revelatory. He thinks as a poet, writes as poet, with the sure-footedness of an informed scholar and on-site researcher. Constable and Turner would come back to life just to see themselves in Elegy Landscapes, and do so, virtually, in Plumly’s vivid illuminations.” — Susan J. Wolfson, professor of English, Princeton University

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