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Immortal Thoughts

Late Style in a Time of Plague

Christopher Neve


A remarkable, heartfelt, beautifully written analysis of the late work of 19 major artists that Max Porter describes as ‘completely and utterly marvellous’

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‘Painting … exists and exults in immortal thoughts’ William Blake
In 2020, as the spread of Covid-19 causes pandemonium worldwide, an elderly artist returns to his childhood home to watch the transcendent beauty of the seasons and reflect on the final work of the artists he most admires. It seems to him that in their final art works – their late style – that they have something remarkable in common. This has more to do with intuition and memory than with rationality or reason and comes from trying to write about painting itself.

Immortal Thoughts: Late Style in a Time of Plague is an anthology of these reflections. In this personal and moving account, nineteen short essays on artists are interspersed with short accounts of the cataclysmic global progress of the disease in poignant contrast to the beauty of the seasons in the isolated house and garden, narrative strands that are closely intertwined. From Cézanne's last watercolours to Michelangelo’s final five drawings, Rembrandt and suffering to Gwen John and absence, Christopher Neve dwells on artists’ late ideas, memory, risk, handling and places, in the terrible context of Time and mortality.

As much art history as a discussion of great art in the context of the Dance of Death, Neve writes with renewed passion about Bonnard, Michelangelo, Morandi, Poussin, Soutine and many others in his distinctive style.

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'It is rare indeed to encounter a book about art which is itself a work of art… Christopher Neve’s Immortal Thoughts is a direct and conscious attempt to distil, by a passionate engagement with the work of eighteen artists, the essence of art itself'
John Banville, New Statesman

'A beautiful book of essays about the late style of major artists'
Ben Okri

'Painter Christopher Neve finds words to capture the visual imagination of great artists in their final days. Their dance with death is made yet more poignant because Neve composed this beautiful little book in 2020, during lockdown, and his short essays are interspersed with snatches of world news from the “wireless” and glimpses of a plane-less blue sky'
David Reynolds, Books of the Year, New Statesman

'From Titian and Michelangelo to Cezanne and Soutine, from Velazquez and Chardin to Bonnard and Pissarro, Neve sketches out the final periods of artists’ lives in lilting, lyrical prose ... His painterly style, his eye for detail and colour, is all the more powerful for the way that he juxtaposes it with the news of the outside world ... His approach amounts to a kind of emotional ekphrasis'
Times Literary Supplement

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Product Information

Book Details

Format: Hardback

Size: 21.6 x 13.8 cm

Extent: 160 pp

Illustrations: 29

Publication date: 30 March 2023

ISBN: 9780500025796

Contents List


Cézanne. Last watercolours
Bonnard’s Last Four Paintings
Michelangelo’s Last Five Drawings
Sculptors’ Drawings

Rembrandt and Suffering
Frans Hals. Last Painting
Camille Pissarro at a Window
Absence. (Gwen John)

Claude, Poussin and Time
Velasquez. Las Meninas
A Footnote about El Greco

Daumier. On Not Finishing



About the Author

Christopher Neve is a painter and writer. He is the author of several
books and articles. His book Unquiet Landscape: Places and Ideas in 20th-century British Painting (1990, 2020), arose out of long talks with his friend Ben Nicholson and other artists, and is published by Thames and Hudson.