14th May Mary Delany (Birth)

Wiltshire – born Mary Delany (née Granville) became famous as an artist, letter-writer and for ‘paper-mosaicks’, botanical drawing and needlework.  She was also a member of ‘The Bluestocking Society’, an informal group of wealthy women who met to discuss literature and at which learned men were periodically invited to speak.

Sent to live with her aunt, Lady Stanley in London, Mary studied literature, history, music and French as well as being taught needlework and dancing and became a close friend of Handel.

In 1718, her family who were financially dependent on her uncle, Lord Lansdowne, arranged her marriage, at the age of seventeen, to Alexander Pendarves, MP for Launceston, despite the forty-three year age gap.  Although the marriage was unhappy, she loved the marital home, Roscrow Castle near Falmouth.  The marriage was cut short by her husband’s death in 1725 from alcohol – related causes and since he had not changed his will upon their marriage she inherited nothing but was, in a way, liberated since widows were able to move more freely in society than young, unmarried women. 

Spending her time living with various family members and friends, Delany drew illustrations of samples collected by Captain Cook. 
In 1743, to the anger of her family, she married an Irish clergyman, Patrick Delany and they remained happily married for 25 years. 

Widowed again in 1768, she devoted herself to her botanical drawings and her ‘paper mosaicks’, essentially collages, and she wrote that ‘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’.  Between the age of 71 and 88, she created 985 mosaicks using tissue paper and hand colouring to create accurate depictions of many plants.  Some are on display in the ‘Enlightenment Gallery’ of the British Museum, which was also bequeathed her drawings. One example is shown below.



Her work with paper was described as follows:

With the plant specimen set before her she cut minute particles of coloured paper to represent the petals, stamens, calyx, 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.
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