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The Garden at War: Deception, Craft and Reason at Stowe

The Garden at War: Deception, Craft and Reason at Stowe


Stowe isn’t a garden of flowers or shrubs; it’s a garden of ideas. This important new collection of essays and artwork brings together reactions from some of the leading thinkers on landscape design, exploring the gardens at Stowe as a site of conflict between order and disorder, and comparing them with Ian Hamilton Finlay’s Little Sparta.


Accompanying an exhibition of historic and contemporary art at Stowe House, The Garden at War explores the gardens at Stowe, built by a general, as a site of perpetual conflict. Here the preconditions of destruction and creation are inescapable. If nature is understood to be original, then the garden is an ordered but un-orderly condition – a re-ordered vision of the natural order, a vision of nature disciplined by human action in a attempt to advance and yield control. 


At Stowe, two hundred and fifty acres of carefully maintained gardens offer a complex web of views, pathways, statues, inscriptions, urns and ideas. Unlike its French floricultural precursors, Stowe presents sudden shifts of scene, abrupt revelations, as well as spots at which to stop to absorb the visual effect. There is natural beauty in the gardens of Stowe, but they serve a larger purpose than to please the eye. Beneath this facade of bucolic idyll lies a deeply important suggestion of man’s relationship to nature. 


Starting with works by the preeminent neoclassical painters Nicolas Poussin and Claude Lorrain – whose distinct pictorial visions gave rise to an unmistakable relationship between the garden, the viewer and the natural world – the publication brings together an arrangement of interpretations and theories exploring metaphors and meanings within the very practice of gardening itself. An introduction by the pre-eminent critic Stephen Bann and essays by Joseph Black and the foremost garden historian John Dixon Hunt lead on to newly commissioned illustrations by artist Gary Hincks, a previously unpublished interview with the Scottish conceptual artist and gardener Ian Hamilton Finlay, and a new discussion of conflict in the work of Richard Long. 

  • Edited by Joseph Black

    July 2017

    ISBN 978 1 911300 22 9 

    Paperback, 210 x 210 mm 

    132 pages, 48 illustrations


    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.

  • Exhibition

    Stowe House, Buckingham,

    8 July - 9 September 2017

  • In the press

    "An extraordinary, profusely illustrated, impressively informative, thoughtful and thought-provoking study that is unreservedly recommended." 
    Midwest Book Review

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