Mary Delany, who lived in the 1700s, created over a thousand beautiful botanical collages 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 story behind her art, told in Molly Peacock’s biography The Paper Garden.

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 cutting out bits of paper, mixing pigments, dissecting plants and occasionally adding parts of them to her collages.

Mary Delany / The British Museum

What we love most is that Delany’s method arose through serendipity.

Delany happened to notice a geranium petal fall nearby a piece of tissue paper that matched it in color, and this sparked her first flower collage.

Mary Delany / The British Museum

Delany’s story brings to mind so many people we know who are facing a difficult transition and can’t quite find a way forward.

She reminds us that not only could our newest muse be as simple as a flower petal on the coffee table, but that our truest expression is there waiting, always, to be found.

Mary Delany / The British Museum


See more of Delany’s work online at The British Museum.

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3 replies on “Our Truest Expression is Waiting To be Found: Mary Delany’s Late-in-Life Calling

  1. Thank you, Sally! I am opening my 7th decade by building an artists’ retreat and land restoration lab with my husband—our 20-yr dream coming into being. Had no idea how passionate I feel about restoring damaged land—learning how to farm to bring the soil to life. It’s a hoot. At this time of life, it becomes apparent that the fruition of the endeavor is not for us; it’s for all the lovely beings coming up. A sweet fruition indeed.

  2. Joan, what a cool undertaking! I’d love to hear more about your land restoration project!

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