Mary Delany, Passiflora laurifolia: bay leaved, a paper collage. Image used with permission from the British Museum.
Today I drove through the snow flurries to see flowers in New Haven. Not actual plants but art, in an exhibit at the Yale Center for British Art. Mary Delany, an amateur naturalist and artist (1700-1788), cut paper for beautiful renderings of flowers and other plants. Part of a show running through January 3rd, these exquisite page-sized works were on view, along with sketches, paintings, and some lushly embellished fabric for which Delany designed the flowered embroidery.
Mary Delany began creating the “paper mosaics” when she was in her seventies! The delicacy of the cut paper is remarkable. I wish I’d remembered my glasses so I could have examined the pictures more closely. How did she do that? I kept wondering.
Most of the botanical collection comes from the British Museum, but the current installation, “Mrs. Delany and Her Circle,” moves on to London’s Sir John Soane’s Museum in February.
Oddly enough, I had just been reading about Mary Delany (whom I’d previously never heard of) in Margaret Drabble’s book about jigsaw puzzles, The Pattern on the Carpet, when a neighbor recommended the Yale show. Drabble speculates that Delany’s affinity for cut-paper collages may have led her to create an important predecessor of jigsaw puzzles–dissected maps, favored by the royal household and other aristocrats for educational purposes.
Whatever the case, the Yale curators write, “…Mrs. Delany used her craft activities to cement bonds of friendship and negotiate complex, interlinked social networks throughout a long life passed in artistic, aristocratic, and court circles in Georgian England and Ireland.”
You can read more about Mrs. Delany online in a New York Times T Magazine article.
I like nature, and on a blustery winter day, seeing it indoors at a museum is just fine.