Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Mary Delany, collage artist of flowers in the 1700's

MetaFilter's  julen put together a post on the wonderful Mary Delany, an artist in the late 1700's, who created collages, incredibly intimate images of flowers, beautiful and true with a botanist's eye for detail.

Click the images for larger viewing.

From Wikipedia: Mary Delany (nee Granville) (14 May 1700 – 15 April 1788) was an English Bluestocking, artist, and writer; most famous for her "paper-mosaicks...As a widow, Mary Delany spent a lot of time with the Dowager Duchess of Portland, a close friend. The two shared a kinship in botany, often going out to look for specific specimens. It was during her stay with the Duchess that Mary became acquainted with two well-known botanists of the time Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander. This contact with the botanists only encouraged Mary's interest in botany and also created knowledge for which many of her flower paper-cuttings are based on...

Continued from Wikipedia: Mary had always been an avid artist, but it was during her marriage to Dr Delany that she finally had the time to hone her skills. She was an avid gardener, something that she shared with Dr Delany, and was also good at needlework, drawing, painting, and cutting paper. Mary is most known for her paper-cutting, "For these 'mosaicks' are coloured paper representing not only conspicuous details but also contrasting colours or shades of the same colour so that every effect of light is caught"[9]
In 1771, Mary began to create cut out paper artworks (decoupage) as was the fashion for ladies of the court. Her works were exceptionally detailed and botanically accurate depictions of plants. She used tissue paper and hand colouration to produce these pieces. She created 1,700 of these works, calling them her "Paper Mosaiks [sic]",[10] from the age of 71 to 88 when her eyesight failed her. During this time, Mary made nearly 1,000 of the paper flowers.[11]

Continued from Wikipedia: "With the plant specimen set before her she cut minute particles of coloured paper to represent the petals, stamens, clayx, leaves, veins, stalk and other parts of the plant, and, using lighter and darker paper to form the shading, she stuck them on a black background. By placing one piece of paper upon another she sometimes built up several layers and in a complete picture there might be hundreds of pieces to form one plant. It is thought she first dissected each plant so that she might examine it carefully for accurate portrayal..."[12] Mary took great care to make sure that each of her flowers were correct, in number of stamens and petals. She also became so well-known that many donors began to send her flowers to cut.[13] They can still be seen in the Enlightenment Gallery at the British Museum today. Upon her death, "The ten volumes of Mrs. Delany's Flora were inherited by Lady Llanover, the daughter of Georgina Mary Ann Port. Lady Llanover, who died in 1896 at the age of ninety-four, bequeathed these volumes to the British Museum..."[14]
When the Dowager Duchess died, George and Charlotte gave her a small house at Windsor and a pension of 300 pounds a year. Mary had become familiar with the Queen Charlotte during her time paper-cutting, and while living in the house at Windsor, became an important part within the King and Queen's lives.[3] The King and Queen were great supporters of Mary's paper-cutting, "The King and Queen...always desired that any curious or beautiful plants should be transmitted to Mrs. Delany when in blossom."[15]
Frances Burney (Madame D'Arblay) was introduced to her in 1783, and frequently visited her at her London home and at Windsor, and owed to her friendship her court appointment. Delany, in her eighties at this time, had a reputation for cutting out and making the intricate paper mosaics (collages) now in the British Museum. She had known many of the luminaries of her day, had corresponded with Jonathan SwiftSir Joseph Banks, and Young, and left a detailed picture of polite English society of the 18th century in her six volumes of Autobiography and Letters (ed. Lady Llanover, 1861–1862). Burke calls her "a real fine lady, the model of an accomplished woman of former times".
In the year 1980, a descendant of Mary Delany's sister Anne, Ruth Hayden, published a book on Delany's work: Mrs. Delany and Her Flower Collages, which was reissued in 2000 as Mrs. Delany: Her Life and Her Flowers (British Museum Press)."


  1. I only discovered Mary yesterday. Why has the world never really heard about her. She was a modern artist in the truest sense of the word and a master of her craft. Her embroidery is also breath-taking. Amazing.