Ian Hamilton Finlay’s Little Sparta: An Artist’s Garden

“Andrew Dickson visits Little Sparta, for 40 years the home and studio of Scottish artist Ian Hamilton Finlay, who was also a poet, writer and gardener. Richard Ingleby, co-owner of the Ingleby Gallery in Edinburgh, takes us on a tour of the garden in the Pentland Hills, which is filled with the artist’s work. ”


Close by, another shrine of classical design is set against a wall and shaded by little trees. It is a Roman lalarium, a shrine dedicated to the patron god of a household, and between its columns the statue, based on a work by the Italian Baroque sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini, shows a lithe young god clad only in a flowing length of cloth and running forward eagerly, a machine gun in his hand. The inscribed letters on his plinth ‘A SJ’ tells us that he is Apollo as Saint-Just. Three icons brought together to jar one’s mind and feelings. The attributes of Apollo are transmitted to the young French Revolutionary, whose missiles were those of his unflinching attacks on failure to achieve a pure revolution, and the physical weapon in his hand is the contemporary warrior’s quick-firing instrument of destruction. The bringing together of the ideals of integrity and truth with violence requires a judgment about the role of violent action in our or any world view.

Jessie Sheeler, Little Sparta: The Garden of Ian Hamilton Finlay