Ian Hamilton Finlay

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Ian Hamilton Finlay

Ian Hamilton Finlay at Little Sparta, 1994. Photo courtesy Jürgen Röhrscheid and © Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
Born 28 October 1925
Nassau, Bahamas
Died 27 March 2006
Edinburgh, Scotland
Nationality Scottish
Field poetry, concrete poetry, art, gardens, sculpture, publishing
Famous works
  • Five Columns for the Kröller-Müller
  • Little Sparta
  • Revolutionary Garden in Versailles (not built)
  • Sea Poppy I (with Alistair Cant)
  • Starlit Waters
  • The Little Seamstress (with Richard Demarco)
  • Tree-Shells (with Ian Gardner)
  • UNDA (in Little Sparta, Max Planck Institute Stuttgart and University of California)

Ian Hamilton Finlay, CBE, (28 October 1925 - 27 March 2006) was a Scottish poet, writer, artist and gardener.


  • 1 Biography
  • 2 Collaborators
  • 3 Printed works
  • 4 Sculptures and gardens
  • 5 Books by Finlay
  • 6 Bibliography
  • 7 Notes
  • 8 References
  • 9 External links


Finlay was born in Nassau, Bahamas of Scottish parents. He was educated in Scotland. At the age of 13, with the outbreak of World War II, he was evacuated to the Orkney Islands. In 1942 he joined the British Army.[1]

At the end of the war, Finlay worked as a shepherd, before beginning to write short stories and poems. He published books including The Sea Bed and Other Stories (1958) and The Dancers Inherit the Party (1960) (which was included in its entirety in a New Directions annual a few years later), and some of his work was broadcast by the BBC.[1]

In 1963, Finlay published Rapel, his first collection of concrete poetry (poetry in which the layout and typography of the words contributes to its overall effect), and it was as a concrete poet that he first gained wide renown. Much of this work was issued through his own Wild Hawthorn Press. Eventually he began to inscribe his poems into stone, incorporating these sculptures into the natural environment.

This kind of environmental poetry features in his garden Little Sparta in the Pentland Hills near Edinburgh, where he lived. The five-acre garden also includes more conventional sculptures and temple-like buildings as well as plants.

In December 2004 in a poll conducted by Scotland on Sunday, a panel of fifty artists, gallery directors and arts professionals voted Little Sparta to be the most important work of Scottish art.[2] Second and third were the Glasgow School of Art by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and The Skating Minister. Sir Roy Strong has said of Little Sparta that it is "the only really original garden made in this country since 1945".[3]

The Little Sparta Trust plans to preserve the garden for the nation by raising enough to pay for an ongoing maintenance fund. Ian Appleton, Stephen Bann, Stephen Blackmore, Susan Daniel-McElroy, Patrick Eyres, Richard Ingleby, Ian Kennedy, Magnus Linklater, Victoria Miro, Nicholas Serota, Jessie Sheeler, Pia Simig and Ann Uppington are trustees.

His work is notable for a number of recurring themes: a penchant for classical writers (especially Virgil); a concern with fishing and the sea; an interest in the French Revolution; and a continual revisiting of World War II. His work can be austere, but it is also at times witty, or even darkly whimsical. His use of Nazi imagery led an accusation of neo-Nazi sympathies, and to a court case, which Finlay won. He also came into conflict Strathclyde Regional Council over his liability for rates on a byre in his garden, which the council insisted was being used as commercial premisses. Finlay insisted that it was a garden temple.[4]

One of the few gardens outside Scotland to permanently display his work is the Improvement Garden in Stockwood Park, Luton.

Finlay was nominated for the Turner Prize in 1985. He was awarded honorary doctorates from Aberdeen University in 1987, Heriot-Watt University in 1993 and the University of Glasgow in 2001, and an honorary and/or visiting professorship from the University of Dundee in 1999. The French Communist Party presented him with a bust of Saint-Just in 1991. He received the Scottish Horticultural Medal from the Royal Caledonian Horticultural Society in 2002, and the Scottish Arts Council Creative Scotland Award in 2003. Awarded in the Queen's New Year's Honours list in 2002, Finlay was a CBE.[5]

Finlay was married twice and had two children. He died in Edinburgh.[6]


Finlay's designs were most often built by others.[1] A partial list of collaborators follows, from two sources.[7][8]

  • John Andrew
  • Ian Appleton
  • Candida Ballantyne
  • Janet Boulton
  • Lucius Burckhardt
  • David Button
  • Pamela Campion
  • Alistair Cant
  • Patrick Caulfield
  • Wes Christensen
  • Laurie Clark
  • Thomas A. Clark
  • Peter Coates
  • Ron Costley
  • Kerstin Curwin
  • Simon Cutts
  • Heather Deedman
  • Richard Demarco
  • Jim Downie
  • Stephen Duncalf
  • Harvey Dwight
  • Howard Eaglestone
  • Julie Farthing
  • Zdenek Felix
  • Martin Fidler
  • Jud Fine
  • Alec Finlay
  • Sue Finlay
  • Malcolm Fraser
  • John Furnival
  • Philip Gallo
  • Ian Gardner
  • Robin Gillanders
  • Harry Gilonis
  • Sydney McK. Glen
  • Peter Grant
  • Martyn Greenhalgh
  • Andrew Griffiths
  • Christopher Hall
  • Pip Hall
  • Werner Hannappel
  • Michael Harvey
  • Richard Healy
  • Carl Heideken
  • Volkmar Herre
  • Solveig Hill
  • Gary Hincks
  • Jo Hincks
  • Paul Holman
  • John Dixon Hunt
  • Ralph Irving
  • Nina Ivancic
  • Grahame Jones
  • Stephanie Kedik
  • Peter Knee
  • Andrew Lawson
  • Gwyneth Leech
  • Kathleen Lindsley
  • Norman Lockhart
  • Catherine Lovegrove
  • J. W. Lucas
  • Peter Lyle
  • John Borg Manduca
  • Eric Marland
  • Neil McLeish
  • Stuart Mills
  • Gordon Munro
  • Jim Nicholson
  • George Oliver
  • David Paterson
  • Ian Procktor
  • John R. Nash
  • Stephen Raw
  • Antonia Reeve
  • Graham Rich
  • Herbert Rosenthal
  • Carlo Rossi
  • Ivy Sky Rutzky
  • Colin Sackett
  • Annika Sandell
  • Jessie Sheeler
  • Margot Sandeman
  • Marco Schibig
  • Pia Maria Simig
  • Nicholas Sloan
  • Vic Smeed
  • Jennie Spiers
  • Ann Stevenson
  • Iain Stewart
  • Mark Stewart
  • Annet Stirling
  • Alexander Stoddart
  • Diane Tammes
  • C. Tissiman
  • Karl Torok
  • Andrew Townsend
  • Caroline Webb
  • Eva Maria Weinmayer
  • Andrew Whittle
  • Cornelia Wieg
  • Gloria Wilson

Printed works

Ian Hamilton Finlay, Star / Steer, 1966, at Tate and search.php?objectId=15860 National Galleries of Scotland
Ian Hamilton Finlay, Star / Steer, 1966, at Tate and search.php?objectId=15860 National Galleries of Scotland
  • Wild Hawthorn Press
  • Little Sparta Trust
  • Ingleby Gallery
  • National Galleries of Scotland
  • Victoria Miro Gallery
  • Tate
  • UK Government Art Collection
  • Art Gallery of New South Wales

Sculptures and gardens

Five Columns by Finlay in the Kröller-Müller Museum
Five Columns by Finlay in the Kröller-Müller Museum

A partial list of Finlay sculptures and gardens.[9][10] A few photographs are reachable through the external links.

  • Little Sparta, Dunsyre, Lanarkshire, Scotland, 1966-
  • Canterbury sundial, Canterbury, England, University of Kent, near Rutherford College, 1972
  • UNDA wall, Schiff, Windflower, Stuttgart, Germany, Max Planck Institute, 1975-
  • anteboreum, Yorkshire, England, private garden
  • sundial, Liège, Belgium, University of Liège, 1976
  • sundial, Bonn, Germany, British Embassy, 1979
  • Five Columns for the Kröller-Müller, second title: A Fifth Column for the Kröller-Müller, third title: Corot – Saint-Just, tree-column bases named LYCURGUS, ROUSSEAU, ROBESPIERRE, MICHELET, COROT, Otterlo, Holland, Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller, 1982
  • a basket of lemons, a plough of the Roman sort, two oval plaques, Pistoia, Italy, Villa Celle, 1984
  • Vienna, Austria, Schweizergarten, 1985
  • Brittany, France, Domain de Kerguehennec, 1986
  • Eindhoven, Holland, Van Abbemuseum, 1986
  • A Remembrance of Annette, with Nicholas Sloan, Münster, Germany, Uberwasser Cemetery, 1987
  • UNDA, with Sue Finlay and Nicholas Sloan, San Diego, California, USA, Stuart Collection, 1987
  • Furka Pass, Switzerland, 1987
  • Strasbourg, France, Musée d'Art Moderne or Musée des Beaux-Arts, 1988
  • Grove of Silence, Vincennes, with Sue Finlay and Nicholas Sloan, Forest of Dean, England, 1988
  • Frechen-Bahem, Germany, Haus Bitz, 1988
  • Preston, England, Harris Museum and Art Gallery, 1989
  • Cologne, Germany, Ungers Private Library, 1990
  • bridge columns, Broomielaw, Glasgow, Scotland, 1990
  • Ovid wall, Aphrodite herm, tree-plaque, capital, with Nicholas Sloan, Luton, England, Stockwood Park, 1991
  • tree-plaque, Hennef, Germany, private garden, 1991
  • Lübeck, Germany, Overbeck-Gesellschaft, 1991
  • Karlsruhe, Germany, Baden State Library, 1991
  • Dudley, England, The Leasowes, 1992
  • Six Milestones, The Hague-Zoetermeer, Holland, 1992
  • Paris, France, private garden, 1993
  • Frankfurt/Main, Germany, Schröder Münchmeyer Hengst & Co, 1994
  • stone bench, stone plinth, three plaques. pergola, tree-plaque, others, Grevenbroich, Germany, Schlosspark, 1995
  • Foxgloves, with Peter Coates, Durham, UK, Botanical Gardens, 1996
  • Shell Research Centre Thornton grounds, Finlay and Pia Simig with or for Latz+Partner, Chester, UK, 1997-
  • paving, eight benches, tree plaque, with Peter Coates, Serpentine Gallery, Kensington Gardens, London, UK, 1997
  • Fleur de l'Air, with Pia Simig, Peter Coates, Volkmar Herre, Harry Gilonis, John Dixon Hunt, Wild Hawthorn Press, Provence, France, 1997-2003
  • Et In Arcadia Ego, with Peter Coates for Stroom, The Hague, Netherlands, 1998
  • The Present Order, with Peter Coates, for Barcelona City Council, supported by The British Council, Barcelona, Spain, Park Güell, 1999
  • with Peter Coates, Hamburg, Germany, 1999
  • benches, with Peter Coates, Erfurt, Germany, Erfurt Federal Labour Court, 1999
  • Cythera, with Peter Coates, Lanarkshire, Scotland, Hamilton Palace grounds, 2000
  • Six Definitions, Dean Gallery grounds, Edinburgh, Scotland, National Galleries of Scotland, 2001
  • Ripple with Peter Coates, Luxembourg, Casino Luxembourg, 2001 or 2002
  • with Peter Coates, Neanderthal, Germany, 2002
  • with Peter Coates, Carrara, Italy, Carrara International Biennale, 2002
  • Basel, Switzerland, with Peter Coates, 2003
  • with Peter Coates, St. Gallan, Switzerland, private residence, 2004
  • seven Idylls, Dean Gallery allotments, Edinburgh, Scotland, Dean Gallery Allotments Association, 2005
  • L'Idylle des Cerises with Pia Maria Simig (with Peter Coates), Ingleby Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland, preparatory drawings and sculpture, 2005-

Books by Finlay

  • Finlay, Ian Hamilton[11][12] [1960 Migrant Press, 1961 Wild Hawthorn Press, 1961 Wild Flounder Press, 1969 Fulcrum Press, 1995 or 1996 or 1997 Polygon ISBN 0-7486-6207-3] (September or October 2004). in Ken Cockburn & Lilias Fraser (eds.): The Dancers Inherit the Party and Glasgow Beasts, An' a Burd. Polygon in association with Scottish Poetry Library. ISBN 1-904598-13-7. 


  • Finlay, Ian Hamilton[11][12] [1960 Migrant Press, 1961 Wild Hawthorn Press, 1961 Wild Flounder Press, 1969 Fulcrum Press, 1995 or 1996 or 1997 Polygon ISBN 0-7486-6207-3] (September or October 2004). in Ken Cockburn & Lilias Fraser (eds.): The Dancers Inherit the Party and Glasgow Beasts, An' a Burd. Polygon in association with Scottish Poetry Library. ISBN 1-904598-13-7. 
  • Plenel, Edwy. "Querelle d'artistes sur fond de bicentenaire Les douteuses provocations de M. Finlay", Le Monde, 13 May 1989. Retrieved on 2006-11-19. (in French) 
  • Finlay, Ian Hamilton (acquired 1989, completed 27 February 1997, revised March 2004). Ian Hamilton Finlay papers 1948-1992, Getty Research Institute, Research Library, Accession no. 890144. Retrieved on 2006-11-18.
  • Abrioux, Yves [1992 MIT Press EAN 9780262011297 or ISBN 0-262-01129-8] (15 December 2006). Ian Hamilton Finlay. A Visual Primer, N.e.of 2r.e. edition, Reaktion Books. ISBN 0-948462-40-X. 
  • Hendry, Joy; Alec Finlay [1994 Chapman Publishing ISBN 0-906772-61-3] (February 1997). Wood Notes Wild: Essays on the Poetry and Art of Ian Hamilton Finlay. Polygon. ISBN 0-7486-6185-9. 
  • Finlay, Ian Hamilton (1995). in Zdenek Felix & Pia Simig (eds.).: Works in Europe 1972-1995 Werke in Europa, Werner Hannappel (photographer), Cantz Verlag. ISBN 3-89322-749-0. 
  • Gillanders, Robin; Alec Finlay, Ian Hamilton Finlay (18 May 1999). Little Sparta: Portrait of a Garden. National Galleries of Scotland. ISBN 0-903598-85-X. 
  • Weilacher, Udo (September 1999). "Poetry in Nature Unredeemed - Ian Hamilton Finlay" (interview) in Between Landscape Architecture and Land Art, John Dixon Hunt (Foreword), Birkhauser. ISBN 3-7643-6119-0. 
  • Rashwan, Nagy; Ian Hamilton Finlay (December 2001). "The Death of Piety: Ian Hamilton Finlay in conversation with Nagy Rashwan". Jacket (15). ISSN 1440-4737. Retrieved on 2006-11-18. 
  • Lubbock, Tom (August 2002). in Susan Daniel-McElroy (ed.).: Ian Hamilton Finlay: Maritime Works. Tate Gallery Publishing Ltd. ISBN 0-9539924-5-4. 
  • Tate St. Ives (2002). Ian Hamilton Finlay Maritime Works: Notes for Teachers (PDF). Retrieved on 2006-11-11. 
  • Finlay, Ian Hamilton (September 2004). in Pia Simig & John Dixon Hunt (eds.).: Fleur de l'Air: A Garden in Provence by Ian Hamilton Finlay, Volkmar Herre (photographer), Wild Hawthorn Press. ISBN 0-9548192-1-7. Retrieved on 2006-11-11. 
  • Sheeler, Jessie (2003). Little Sparta, the Garden of Ian Hamilton Finlay, Andrew Lawson (photographer), Frances Lincoln. ISBN 0-7112-2085-9. Retrieved on 2006-11-11. 
  • Finlay, Ian Hamilton (2006). The Lilly Library, Indiana University. Retrieved on 2006-11-18.
  • Finlay, Ian Hamilton (2006). The National Archives of the UK (TNA): Public Record Office (PRO) GB/NNAF/P9981. Retrieved on 2006-11-19.


  1. ^ a b c Johnson, Ken. "Ian Hamilton Finlay, 80, Poet and Conceptual Artist, Dies", The New York Times, The New York Times Company, 31 March 2006. Retrieved on 2006-11-10. 
  2. ^ Martell, Peter. "Little Sparta goes a long way in poll on Scotland's greatest art", Scotland on Sunday, The Scotsman, 5 December 2004. Retrieved on 2006-11-17. 
  3. ^ Gibbons, Fiachra. "Penniless poet's vision that bloomed", The Guardian, Guardian News and Media Limited, 30 June 2003. Retrieved on 2006-11-17. 
  4. ^ The Times. "Ian Hamilton Finlay: Scottish poet and artist who turned his Lanarkshire grounds into Little Sparta, a celebrated shrine to pacifism", Times Online, Times Newspapers Ltd, 28 March 2006. Retrieved on 2007-04-10.  and Jones, Jonathan. "Signs of the times", The Guardian, Guardian Newspapers Limited, 10 April 2007. Retrieved on 2007-04-10. 
  5. ^ The Little Sparta Trust (2006). Ian Hamilton Finlay. Retrieved on 2006-12-10.
  6. ^ McNay, Michael. "Ian Hamilton Finlay", The Guardian, Guardian Newspapers Limited, 29 March 2006. Retrieved on 2006-11-10. 
  7. ^ Finlay, Ian Hamilton (2006). Printed works. Wild Hawthorn Press. Retrieved on 2006-11-10.
  8. ^ Finlay, Ian Hamilton (2006). Tate Collection. Retrieved on 2006-11-10.
  9. ^ Finlay, Ian Hamilton (1995). in Zdenek Felix & Pia Simig (eds.).: Works in Europe 1972-1995 Werke in Europa, Werner Hannappel (photographer), Cantz Verlag. ISBN 3-89322-749-0. 
  10. ^ Peter Coates (undated). Biography: Collaborations with Ian Hamilton Finlay. Retrieved on 2006-11-16.
  11. ^ a b The Trustees of Indiana University (undated). IU Lilly Library. Retrieved on 2006-11-18.
  12. ^ a b Ingleby Gallery (undated). Bookshop and Editions. Retrieved on 2006-11-18.
  • University of Glasgow (September 2001). Invitation to the Eleventh Jubilee Celebrations. Retrieved on 2006-11-11.
  • BBC News. "Honours for Scotland", 31 December 2001. Retrieved on 2006-11-10. 
  • Scottish Arts Council (2003). Ian Hamilton Finlay CBE. Retrieved on 2006-11-10.
  • Cooke, Rachel. "Gardener's word", The Observer, Guardian News and Media Limited, 14 August 2005. Retrieved on 2006-11-17. 
  • University of Dundee (1 March 2006). Duncan of Jordanstone Alumni Shine. Retrieved on 2006-11-11.
  • "Ian Hamilton Finlay", Times Online, Times Newspapers Ltd., 28 March 2006. Retrieved on 2006-11-10. 
  • Lubbock, Tom. "Ian Hamilton Finlay", The Independent, Independent News and Media Limited, 29 March 2006. Retrieved on 2006-11-10. 
  • Tate Britain (2006). Turner Prize History. Retrieved on 2006-11-11.
  • Royal Caledonian Horticultural Society (2006). Awards. Retrieved on 2006-11-10.
  • Little Sparta Trust
  • Jacket #15
  • Peter Coates: Collaborations
  • Persondata
    NAME Ian Hamilton Finlay
    SHORT DESCRIPTION Scottish poet, writer, artist and gardener
    DATE OF BIRTH 28 October 1925
    PLACE OF BIRTH Nassau, Bahamas
    DATE OF DEATH 27 March 2006
    PLACE OF DEATH Edinburgh, Scotland
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