Ian Hamilton Finlay, 'Je Vous Salue Marat [collaboration with Julie Farthing]' 1989

Ian Hamilton Finlay
Je Vous Salue Marat [collaboration with Julie Farthing] 1989
Neon light tubes
unconfirmed: 910 x 1220 x 80 mm
Presented by an anonymous donor 2008© The estate of Ian Hamilton Finlay

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South Duveen Galleries

This gallery contains one work: The World Has Been Empty Since The Romans 1985.  These unattributed words of the French revolutionary Louis-Antoine de Saint-Just (1767-1794), inscribed as a monumental, yet ruined, fragment, explain how the protection of liberty is often won through terror. Saint-Just made clear that freedom – as in the Roman Republic – must be continually defended, and it was this that underscored the Terror of the French Revolution; the compact between liberty and virtue with terror and violence. Saint-Just was a keen musician, and Finlay has observed how ‘The Life of Saint-Just was a duet between the blade and the flute’.

Sackler Octagon

In 1961 Finlay established the Wild Hawthorn Press to publish and distribute his and other poets’ work, but over the years the Press came to concentrate on Finlay’s own output. The display cases in this gallery bring together two themes within his work. Boat names evoke the activity of fishing and the landscape of sea, sky and distant land, conveying, in the words of critic Yves Abrioux, ‘the metaphorical implication that the boats enact a pastoral idyll on the high seas’. In the other case, the language and principles of neoclassicism are paired with the example of the social and political upheavals of the French Revolution. For Finlay the epic and pastoral visions of Virgil correspond to Rousseau’s combination of revolutionary political theory and his evocation of gardens and landscape.

North Duveen Galleries

Finlay’s work is emblematic in the way it employs reference and metaphor to encourage a meditation on subject and form, and perhaps have an instructive effect. Several works in this gallery pair the language and principles of neoclassicism with the social and political upheavals of the French Revolution. For Finlay the epic and pastoral visions of Virgil correspond to Rousseau’s revolutionary political theory and his evocation of gardens and landscape; he saw the French Revolution as ‘an epic pastoral whose Virgil was Rousseau’. The wild and the ordered, the sublime and the terrible, the declaration and loss of ideals and belief confront one another through these profound, emblematic works.