Mary Delany - Paper Mosaiks

Mary Delany, Ornithogalum Pyramidale, Star of Bethlehem, 1779

Lilium Canadense, 1779

Passiflora Laurifolia (Gynandria Pentandria), Bay Leaved. 1777

Phaseolus Caracalla, 1779

Crinum Zeylanicum (Hexandria Monogynia), Asphodil Lilly. 1778

Aeschelus Hippocastanum (Heptandria Monogynia), Horse Chestnut. 1776

Magnolia Grandiflora (Polyandria Polygynia), the grand Magnolia. 1776

Viola Odorata, Common sweet violet. 1779

Vicia Cracca (Diadelphia Decandria), Tufted vetch

Verbascum Phoeniceum, Purple mullein. 1778

Pancratium Maritinum (Hexandria Monogynia), Sea Daffodil. 1778

Orobus Sylvaticus (Diadelphia Decandria), Bitter Wood Vetch. 1777

Silene Armeria, Lobel's catchfly. 1774

Iris Xiphium, Bulbous rooted Iris. 1780

Centaurea Cyanus, Blue bottle. 1779

Echinops Ritro, Lesser Globe Thistle. 1779

Gloriosa Superba (Hexandria Monogynia)

Allium Ampeloprasum, Holm's Garlick. 1781

Iris Susiana, Chalcedonian. 1781

Amaryllis Sarniensis (Hex: Mono:), Guernsey Lily. 1775

Scilla Peruviana (Hexandria Monogynia), Peruvian Squill. 1779


Mary Delany (14 May 1700 – 15 April 1788) was an English Bluestocking,
artist, and letter-writer; equally famous for her "paper-mosaicks" and her lively correspondence. (painting by John Opie)

In 1771, Mary began to create cut out paper artworks (decoupage) as was the fashion for ladies of the court. Her works were exceptionally detailed and botanically accurate depictions of plants. She used tissue paper and hand colouration to produce these pieces. She created 1,700 of these works, calling them her "Paper Mosaiks", from the age of 71 to 88 when her eyesight failed her. During this time, Mary made nearly 1,000 of the paper flowers.

"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..."

Mary took great care to make sure that each of her flowers were correct, in number of stamens and petals. She also became so well-known that many donors began to send her flowers to cut. They can still be seen in the Enlightenment Gallery at the British Museum today. (via wikipedia)

Living as she did in an age of exploration, she was drawn to the revolution in botanical knowledge. Patrick Delany, her husband, was a dedicated gardener and much influenced by the garden designs of his close friend, the poet Alexander Pope. At Delville, the Delanys landscaped a wonderful garden, while Mrs Delany went on to become a major botanical artist.

During the late 18th century, gardening became the new religion, with botany and art merging in the name of science. In the absence of cameras, it was the botanical artist, the greatest of all of whom was the German master Georg Dionysius Ehret, who recorded the beauty and exact detail of plants that provided the scientist with source material.

Mary Delany created dramatic and precise collages, made from coloured paper, much of which she had dyed herself. The works were then mounted on black backgrounds. Describing her method in a letter to her niece, dated October 4th, 1772, she wrote: “I have invented a new way of imitating flowers”. She was then 72. (via The Irish Times)

More information about Mary Delany
Digital Collection British Museum
Comprehensive article by Amanda Vickery
Watch the Video with Molly Peacock, author of
"The Paper Garden", reconstructing Mary Delany's methods of decoupage.

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