Thursday, 3 November 2011

Mrs. Delany 1700 - 1788

Mary Delany
Painting in National Portrait Gallery, London.
Painted by John Opie 

Recently I saw a small piece of Mrs. Delany's exquisite paper cut work. I knew about her several years ago, but she had slipped from my mind. However, seeing the little piece reminded me of her beautiful work.
Mrs. Delany, Mary, had always been an avid artist, and loved gardening. She was good at needlework, drawing, painting and cutting paper. It is the paperwork for which she is most well known.  She called them her flower mosaicks, made out of coloured paper. In 1772, at the age of 72 years she began to create cut out paper artworks, decoupage, as was the fashion for ladies of the court. Mrs. Delany was a member of Queen Caroline's court - Caroline was the wife of King George III. She created nearly a thousand collages over 10 years before her failing eyesight caused her to stop. They are exceptionally detailed and botanically accurate depictions of plants. She used tissue paper and hand colouration to produce these pieces. She took great care to make sure each of her flower details were correct in the number of stamens and petals.  She became so well known that many donors began to send flowers for her to make cuttings of. The flower mosaicks fill 10 albums, which can be seen  in the Enlightenment Gallery at the British Museum, London.
Crinium Asiaticum - Asiatic Crinum
Physalis - Chinese Lantern - Winter Cherry

Passiflora Laurifolia, Bay Leaved- Passionflower
Bombax Ceiba - Red Silk Cotton Tree
Nymphea Alba - White Water Lily
Amaryllis Aurea Solander
Alcea Rosea - Hollyhock
Aletris Iris Uvaria - I think the name of this has now changed to (Kniphofia) - Red Hot Poker
Iris Squalens - Iris
Aeschelus Hippocastanum - Horse Chestnut
kind permission of The British Museum


This book, recently published, The Paper Garden, by Molly Peacock, relates her more than interesting life, and shows many of her delicious paper cut flowers.
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H visited the British Museum last week and went to see Mrs. Delany's work. You go to the 4th floor - the Prints and Drawings area. Behind a screen with a Michelangelo cartoon, there is a door to room 90. Ring the bell, when you have shown proof of your identity, someone will let you through. Once you are admitted, bags etc are taken from you and placed in a locker. You are then taken to a desk, where a gallery assistant will give you protective gloves, and bring a box of Mrs. Delany's work to you. Once you have seen one box, you can have another. This area does not keep the museum hours, they shut for lunch and close earlier.

22 comments:

  1. Hello Rosemary:
    How magical to go behind a screened door to have the opportunity of handling these absolutely exquisite flower collages. They must represent hours of work and are so wonderfully coloured and detailed. We cannot imagine why we have never heard of Mrs Delany or her botanical collages, but how wonderful to have been introduced to her now.

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  2. Beautiful story and imagines. Mrs. Delany was very lucky to live 88 years. I think she was a very wise woman.

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  3. Dear Jane & Lance - when I was writing out the instructions to access Mrs. Delany's work, it reminded me of the Ella Fitzgerald song - Just knock three times and whisper low, that you and I were sent by Joe, then strike a match and you will know you're in Hernando's hideaway.
    However, I am glad that you are happy to have been introduced to her.

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  4. Ooooh , wonderful! Thanks Rosemary! I'm off to the iron room at teh V&A soon so I'll pop into room 90 as well. I had no idea this form of art existed! Thanks for another wonderful post. I learn something new every time.

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  5. Hang on Kate - do not go looking for room 90 at the V & A - it is the British Museum you need.
    Can't wait to go and see them myself.

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  6. Marius - Mrs Delany's life was very interesting, and it is worth reading about her. To start making the flowers at the age of 72 years is also quite remarkable. She lived to a very good age for someone in the 18th century.

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  7. I received a copy of this lovely book as a gift last Christmas & enjoyed reading it very much. Her life is indeed remarkable as are the wonderful images of flowers.
    Carolyn from Canada

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  8. Dear Carolyn - I am hoping that someone will give me the book this Christmas. 'H' really enjoyed his visit to room 90 at the British Museum to see her work.

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  9. Hi, Rosemary,

    I am overwhelmed how beautiful this work is. Some of it looks incredibly realistic and three-dimensional. I love to learn something new on your blog.....Beth

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  10. Dear Beth - I am so pleased you enjoyed being introduced to Mrs. Delany's work. That is what I like about the blogosphere, connecting with people who have similar interests and learning new things.

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  11. Really gorgeous work, thanks for sharing it here. It just goes to show that it's never too late to be creative!

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  12. You are right Jen A - to produce almost 1000 of these beautiful images from the age of 72 - 82 years is an achievement that many others could, I am sure, emulate.

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  13. :-D Just looked back on my comment from this post, Rosemary...gracious, I was addled that evening! Apologies. Clearly fitting in a day's work, a family evening and going cyber visiting had its full effect! Thanks for your reminder on my blog. In my head I knew it was at the British museum and we'd combine our visits: my fingers clearly thought both wonkily and differently.

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  14. Glad we are all singing from the same hymn sheet Kate - I do not know how you manage to fit so much in, the energy of youth.

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  15. mrs. delany's work is breathtaking, even in reproduction form. i can only imagine how delicate and powerful the originals are. i read 'the paper garden' last winter and loved it. in fact it's sitting on the window seat in my little front porch now.....i'd lent it to a neighbor and they returned it with a few of my dishes and since we weren't home, left it in the porch. and i love it there where i can see it when i'm coming and going so i'll leave it there until the snows come.

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  16. Dear Annette - I am looking forward to seeing Mrs. Delany's work next time I go to London. I can picture the book sitting in your pretty front porch.

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  17. Her artwork is so rich in colour and detailing! The Passionflower immediately stands out for me, but they are all beautiful.

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  18. I agree with you Bertie, the Passionflower is lovely. I also like the Bombax Ceiba, which I saw for the first time this year, growing in Florida.

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  19. An addendum: Molly Peacock is a well known Canadian poet.
    Carolyn from Canada

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  20. Thanks very much for that added information Carolyn.

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  21. Hi Rosemary! I just got your message on my blog and came over to see your post. This is wonderful! I love Mary Delany's work too. You're so lucky to have been able to see her work in the British Museum; I've looked at their website info about her in the past. Thank you for pointing me to your lovely post!

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    Replies
    1. Gosh that was quick Jennifer - glad that you enjoyed the post - her creativity was amazing especially considering the fact that she was 72 years of age before she even began doing paper cuts, there is hope for all of us to learn new skills throughout our lives.

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