Mary Delany was an English artist best known for her 'paper mosaics' where she explored her creativity and painted flowers and plants back in the 18th century. Discover a range of some of her beautiful botanical collages from 1700-1788.
Botanical Collages by Mary Delany That Date Back to the 1700s
Mary Delany (1700-1788) committed her life to her art when she was 72 years old, learning the technique of decoupage to make a beautiful collection of botanical collages out of cut and dyed paper.
She used layered pieces against dark backgrounds to interpret many of the fragile examples she saw while visiting her friend, the Duchess of Portland, in Buckinghamshire. The realistic works are astounding for their beauty and fidelity to the original lifeforms, down to the wispy clover-like leaves of an oxalis plant and the dramatically spread petals of the daffodil.
Her love for flowers and plants went beyond anything, and painting was her way of escaping from any troubles during the 18th century. The painting was a way for Mary Delany to relax and actually put her passion out there during those years. For the 985 collages in her 'Flora Delanica' series, which are known for their scientific accuracy, Delany labeled each specimen with the plant's taxonomy and common names, the date, the site of creation, the name of the donor, and a collection number. Together, the pieces build a large and varied florilegium or collection of texts and plants in the commonplace book style.
Creating about 100 pages per year, Delany had produced nearly one thousand examples by 1784 when failing eyesight compelled her to abandon the project.
Where To See Mary Delany's Wonderful Work
The British Museum's Department of Prints and Drawings currently houses the Delany collages. Delany's great-niece Augusta Hall, Baroness Llanover, who had already edited her autobiography and correspondence, left them as a bequest in 1897.
Two of Delany's paper mosaics, which are rotated periodically, are on view in Room 1 (the Enlightenment Gallery). The Royal Collection, the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin, and the Lilly Library at Indiana University in Bloomington, USA, all display Mary Delany's artwork.
The British Museum houses most of Delany’s collages, which you can explore in an interactive archive that has information about the plants, artworks, and the option to zoom in on images of the pieces. You also might enjoy 'The Paper Garden', a book that delves into the artist’s work and what it means to foster a creative practice.
The Life of Mary Delany
The young Mary Granville, who was well educated, spoke several languages, and was an accomplished artist, singer, and embroiderer, was raised for life in court. When Mary was 17 years old, the Granville family's circumstances changed, resulting in an arranged marriage with the considerably older Alexander Pendarves. Eight years after her husband passed away, Mary became a widow, and her tenacity and vivacity made her popular with judges.
The widowed Mrs. Pendarves met Irish cleric Patrick Delany when she was 32 years old. They were married 11 years later and moved to Dublin, where he was appointed Dean of Down. Delany focused on her excellent needlework, painting, drawing, and shell work while working on the house and gardens. It was at this point that flowers and plants caught her most sincere interest and the exact moment when she began painting and documenting every one of her pieces.
To read and learn more curious information about the Septuagenarian artist, make sure to give the website of The British Museum a glimpse.
Photos courtesy of The British Museum.