Elegy Landscapes: Constable and Turner and the Intimate Sublime

Stanley Plumly. Norton, $29.95 (208p) ISBN 978-0-393-65150-8
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. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 05/07/2018
Release date: 08/21/2018
Genre: Nonfiction
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