Winter Cherry or Chinese Lantern, by Mary Delany
Mary Granville Delany took up serious art in her seventies. From age 71 to 88, when her eyesight failed, she made nearly a thousand cut-paper botanical collages.
She was raised to enter the court as a sort of junior lady-in-waiting, with all the necessary language and decorative skills. These hopes were dashed with the death of Queen Anne in 1714, and Mary’s family repackaged her to make an advantageous marriage to an elderly man. Advantageous to the families, perhaps, but not to her; the gouty old fellow drank himself to death, leaving her a penniless 24-year-old widow.
Passiflora laurifolia, by Mary Delany
Passed among relatives and friends, Mary met an already-married Irish clergyman, Dr. Patrick Delany. It was not until she was in middle age that he was free to marry her. Both were interested in gardening and botany. Her happy second marriage allowed her to pursue the leisure arts of the time: paper-cutting, painting, shellwork and embroidery.
Asphodil Lilly, by Mary Delany
She might have been just another eighteenth-century Bluestocking had she not gone to live with her friend Margaret Bentinck, Duchess of Portland, after Dr. Delany’s death. The Duchess of Portland was a fabulously famous woman in her day: Bluestocking, the wealthiest woman in Britain, and an avid collector. Her natural history collection was the largest and most famous of its time. She was also a dedicated botanist in her own right.
Portrait of Mary Delany, John Opie, 1782.
Mary threw herself into decoupage in her widowhood. This was a fashionable craft at the time, but she elevated it into art, using it to make exceptionally detailed, accurate renderings of plants. Admirers of her work included Sir Joshua Reynolds and botanist Sir Joseph Banks.
|Floral embroidery by Mary Delany|
After the Duchess of Portland’s death, Mary was given a pension by the Crown and lived the remainder of her life at Windsor Castle. In 1896, the British Museum was bequeathed her ten volumes of botanical paper-cuttings.
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