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The Courtauld Symposium at Stowe 2017

Join us this Summer at Stowe House as The Courtauld Institute of Art presents a day-long series of talks held to open the exhibition The Garden at War.


Bringing together world-leading art-historians and contemporary artists the collaborative event aims to provide an enlightening and enjoyable day for all. The talks will explore the issues and ideas raised by the exhibition on the development and relevance of Stowe and its history of neoclassicism.

The primary strand of inquiry which informs the day concerns the work of the Scottish poet and artist Ian Hamilton Finlay and the use of the gardens at Stowe as a collaborative art-form. Looking at Stowe in this manner it is possible to read its design through a number of different frameworks; from the influence of the classical world, to the work of conceptual artists, to the Enlightenment and the French landscape paintings of Nicolas Poussin and Claude Lorrain.



Joseph Black is an emerging artist and writer; Stephen Bann is Emeritus Professor of History of Art at the University of Bristol and has written extensively on the work of Ian Hamilton Finlay; John Dixon Hunt is Emeritus Professor of the History and Theory of Landscape at the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard Graduate School of Design and is widely acknowledged as a foremost scholar on garden and landscape design; John Stathatos is a Greek writer and photographer specializing in thirdworld conflict; Joy Sleeman is an art historian whose research embraces aspects of the histories of sculpture and landscape design.

Stowe House, Buckingham, MK18 5EH

 Saturday 8 July 2017

 10:30 - 6:00​

Booking has now closed



10:00          Stowe House Open

11:00 – 11:30                Registration and tea/coffee

Session 1

11:30 – 12:00                Welcome and opening by Crispin Robinson

12:00 – 12:30                James Cahill

12:30 – 13:00                Dr. Joy Sleeman

13:00 – 14:00             Lunch Break
(available from Stowe House)


Session 2

14:00 – 14:45                Joseph Black

14:45 – 15:30                Patrick Eyres

15:30 – 16:00                Prof. Stephen Bann

16:00 – 16:45               Break

16:45 – 18:00            Panel Discussion
Joseph Black and Antoine Espinasseau in conversation

18:00                            Closing by Crispin Robinson




James Cahill
Title: Concrete Metamorphoses: Ian Hamilton Finlay’s The Errata of Ovid, 1983

‘Metamorphoses: Ian Hamilton Finlay’s The Errata of Ovid’ looks at how this 1983 publication by Ian Hamilton Finlay relates both to Ovid's Latin text and Finlay's broader mode of classicism.


James Cahill, writer and critic. He is currently completing a PhD at Cambridge University on the relationship between contemporary British art and classical antiquity. He has contributed to publications including Art in America, Apollo, The Burlington Magazine, Elephant, The Erotic Review, frieze, the TLS and The White Review. He is the author and co-author of monographs including Richard Patterson (Anomie Publishing, 2017), Maggi Hambling: War Requiem and Aftermath (London: Unicorn Press, 2015), and Angus Fairhurst (London: Sadie Coles HQ / PWP, 2009). He is the contributing editor of a major new book on classical myth in western art, forthcoming from Phaidon. Other current publications include an anthology of interviews with contemporary artists, due next year from Laurence King Publishing.

Dr Joy Sleeman
Title: War correspondence: artistic encounters in the garden and beyond

Through his extraordinarily diverse and extensive correspondence and via remote participation in exhibitions, Ian Hamilton Finlay’s networked universe infiltrated the international art world and brought many on artistic and personal journeys to the garden at its origin.
This presentation looks at some artistic encounters and correspondents in the history of Finlay’s art and garden. Some of these connections and visitors will be obvious, others perhaps a little more unexpected.
If my earlier discussion of words in the work of Finlay and Richard Long dwelt in the twilight world of the elegiac, this musing returns us to the sounds and fury of the battlefield as well as its more reflective aftermath and commemoration.


Dr. Joy Sleeman studied History of Art at University College London and has a PhD from the University of Leeds, Department of Fine Art. Her research embraces aspects of the histories of sculpture and landscape and these two areas of interest coalesce in her work on the new forms of landscape art that emerged in the 1960s, often referred to as ‘Land Art’. Sleeman’s work on land art includes a major exhibition, Uncommon Ground: Land Art in Britain 1966–1979, co-curated with Nicholas Alfrey (Nottingham University) and Ben Tufnell (independent curator and writer). Since 2000 she has been a member of the editorial board of Sculpture Journal, the leading academic journal for research in sculpture.

Joseph Black
Title: Nature into Culture; The Garden at War

The Gardens at Stowe present a place where politics, philosophy, and horticulture are all deeply interwoven into a grand metaphorical landscape. Informed by the work of Ian Hamilton Finlay, my research has focused on looking at Stowe through the performative qualities of gardening, the metaphorical implications of its use of symbolism, and its close similarities to conceptual practices. Examining the period in which Kent and Brown worked at Stowe, this paper looks at their contributions to garden design through a change in Enlightenment philosophy. I aim to interpret the gardens at Stowe through the metaphor of warfare. The attacks, which Ian Hamilton Finlay characterised as the inherent character of some gardens, are both literal and metaphorical. In maintaining the horizon of the garden against the will of nature one is simultaneously creating a relationship of formal structure and disorder. It is in this regard that we may consider the garden at war; the war being a continual struggle to preserve coherence and stability to both ourself and to the world around.

Joseph Black is an artist and writer based in London. He obtained a Masters Degree in Conceptual Art from the Courtauld Institute of Art in 2016. He has since founded and continues to work as Senior Curator at Aganippe Arts, a curatorial company specialising in managing exhibitions of historic and contemporary art in locations of cultural importance. He has worked as Senior Curator on The Garden at War exhibition programme, is a contributing artist, and is the editor of the exhibition publication. His work has previously been exhibited in other independent curatorial projects in London and his writing has been included in a number of arts publications.

Dr Patrick Eyres 

Title: Neo-Classicism on Active Service: 18C gardens, imperial warfare and the avant-gardening of Ian Hamilton Finlay


War is a theme common to the 18C gardens at Stowe and the late 20C garden of Little Sparta. Political warfare and the battle of the sexes are evident at Stowe along with commemorations of the worldwide victories of the empire-expanding Seven Years War (1756-1763). Inspired by English Georgian gardens such as Stowe, Ian Hamilton Finlay developed the poetic garden at Little Sparta. There, at the very edge of open moorland, the process of gardening was a state of continuous war against the depredations of weather, predators and bureaucrats. This paper will focus on the ways that Earl Temple and Finlay mobilised Neo-Classicism to wage cultural and political war. In particular, it will discuss the theme of naval warfare at Stowe and Little Sparta, as well as the ways that Finlay confronted the then local authority, Strathclyde Regional Council, throughout the long-running Little Spartan War (1979-1996).

Dr. Patrick Eyres is editor and publisher of the New Arcadian Journal, which engages with the cultural politics of landscape gardens. He has published in numerous books and journals, and co-edited Sculpture and the Garden (Ashgate, 2006). He knew the poet-gardener Ian Hamilton Finlay (1925-2006) for almost thirty years and is thus a member of the Little Sparta Trust, which seeks to safeguard Finlay’s unique garden. Patrick is also on the board of the Garden History Society and Leeds Art Fund, and a member of the Yorkshire Gardens Trust, Public Monuments and Sculpture Association and Folly Fellowship.

Professor Stephen Bann
Title: Gardens Great and Small: Finlay and Shenstone

From the early 1970s, Ian Hamilton Finlay acquired his knowledge of the great English gardens at second-hand, notably at first through his discovery of the writing of the garden historian Edward Hyams. Maynard Mack's work on Alexander Pope's garden at Twickenham reinforced his own developing sense of the poet's garden as 'a place to stand' (and to defend if necessary). However it was his discovery of the unique example of William Shenstone's garden of The Leasowes that carried this identification with English examples to a further level. The Leasowes was a small garden, by comparison with Stowe and Stourhead. But it was unquestionably a garden with a vast reputation in the eighteenth century, both nationally and internationally. Moreover Shenstone was both a poet and a moralist, whose 'sentences' on gardening and more general issues began to inspire Finlay's own published collections of aphorisms. Yet although Finlay accepted that Little Sparta was (like The Leasowes) small in comparison with its peers, he remained highly sensitive to the insinuation that it was therefore inferior to contemporary gardens that drew on greater material resources. This concern became manifest in one of his last ad hominem battles, waged against the French garden designer Bernard Lassus.

Professor Stephen Bann CBE, FBA was Professor of the History of Art at Bristol University from 2000 to 2008, and is currently a Senior Research Fellow there. Professor Bann joined the University of Kent in 1967 as Lecturer in History and, during this time, was Deputy Editor, then Editor, of 20th Century Studies. He was subsequently appointed Professor of Modern Cultural Studies at the University of Kent, where he was also Honorary Professor from 2010 to 2014, before becoming Chair in History of Art at the University of Bristol. He has been appointed Slade Professor of Fine Art, University of Cambridge, for 2017–18. Since 2008, he has also served as a guest curator for major exhibitions at the National Gallery in London and the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Lyon. He was elected Fellow of the British Academy in 1998 and appointed CBE for services to Art History in 2004. He first met Ian Hamilton Finlay in 1964, and became (in the words of Finlay’s son Alec) his “preferred commentator”.


Antoine Espinasseau lives and works in Paris. He is a contemporary French artist and architect exhibiting work in the The Garden at War exhibition. Before working as an artist he studied at the National Superior School of Architecture of Versailles (École nationale supérieure d'architecture de Versailles). Working as a visual artist his work has been shown in private and public institutions, such as La Fondation Ricard in Paris and Le Consortium, Dijon. Recently his practice has explored the relationship between people and their environment, with a focus on gardens and representations of nature.

Crispin Robinson is Second Master: Deputy to the Headmaster at Stowe School. He previously studied for an MA at St Anne's College, Oxford, and an MPhil at The Courtauld Institute, London.

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