Mary Delany collage British Museum
The British Museum

We’ve had Mary Delany lingering in the back of our minds since reading about her in the New York Times Book Review two months ago, in a review of The Paper Garden by Molly Peacock. Delany is the artist behind over 1000 beautiful botanical collages, like the one seen above, which use nothing but paper and a few found bits to recreate flowers and other plant-life in astonishing detail.

What speaks to us about Delany, however, is not just the richness of her work but the sadness and triumph in the story behind her art.

Mary Delany collage British Museum
The British Museum

Delany did not create her first “paper-mosaic” until the age of 72. After having suffered through a dreadful first marriage and losing a second, cherished husband, she took to art in a time of grief and found herself newly inspired. “I have invented a new way of imitating flowers,” she wrote, and indeed she had, by “mixing pigments, dissecting plants and occasionally adding parts of them to her compositions.”

But what takes the cake is that Delany’s process was practically based on accident.
The story goes that Delany just happened to notice a geranium petal fall nearby a piece of paper that matched it in color, and this sparked her first flower piece. Of all the happy accidents, this one ended as part of the permanent collection at the British Museum.

Mary Delany Collage dtal British Museum
The British Museum

Delany’s story brings to mind so many of the people we know who are struggling with some kind of loss or facing a difficult transition and can’t quite find a way forward.

Paper Garden book cover

She reminds us that not only could your newest muse be as simple as a flower petal on the coffee table, but that there is no wrong time for inventing something new.

—Sarah M.

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9 replies on “mary delany and late blooming

  1. This post – as so many others you have posted – came at just the right moment for me. Thank you.

  2. I saw her exhibition at the Soane Museum last year. Just beautiful work and an even more inspiring life. I worried at 39 I was too late to change careers. Then I realised I haven’t even lived half my life …………

  3. I had the privilege of knowing and publishing books by Sybil Connolly, the great Irish haute couture designer. One of her many projects included introducing Mrs. Delany’s art to Tiffany’s. Under Sybil’s amazing eye, Tiffany’s successfully designed and sold dinnerware with Mrs. Delany’s flowers. I believe the patterns are no longer available. Sybil was also the force behind the Mrs. Delany’s Flowers exhibit at the Morgan Library, some 25 years ago.

  4. What a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing this remarkable woman and her art with us.

  5. Harriet, what fantastic story, with so many connecting pieces. We looked up Sybil Connolly and found her obituary in the NY Times, which tells quite a tale. Thanks so much for alerting us to her: a rare soul with an amazing eye.

  6. For me, one of the problems with the gorgeous reproductions of Delaney’s flowers in The Paper Garden was this: I could not get my head around the fact that they were not paintings but collages made up of hundreds of small pieces of paper. When I was in London in June, I went to the British Museum and headed to the Prints Room to see if I could see some of these collages “in person.” Indeed, you can. The lovely people there provide the white cotton gloves and a box of some of Mary Delaney’s flowers. Amazing to see them up close. It was a happy and satisfying experience.

  7. Diane, that you so much for this insight, and for the great insight that it is possible to visit them close and ‘in person’ at the British Museum.

  8. Hi, I just heard about Mary Delany and The Paper Garden via a podcast and stumbled on this page when searching for more info/visual – and have to say: I am an instant fan of your site!

  9. Well, that is so nice to hear. Thank you so much. Very glad you found us.

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