Mrs. Delany and Her Circle: Count Me In
By Lynn Byrne. Consider the above beautiful botanical. Now consider the fact that is was made with tiny delicate scissors that cut hundreds of little pieces of colored paper. Those little pieces of paper were then glued on a black ground. Astounding. Even more astounding, the paper collages are botanically accurate down to the color, size, leaf, stamen and even insect nibble. Ok, let’s blow your mind. The woman who made these started at age 72 and made around 1000 of them over a course of ten years. Just marvel at the detail. Here are some more:
So who is this incredible women? Her name is Mary Delany and she was born in 1700 and died in 1788. Her life and art are the subject of an exhibition entitled “Mrs. Delany and Her Circle” that is currently running at the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven. Mrs. Delany ran with the cool crowd of her day and each contributed in his/her own way to her creative endeavors. Handel taught her piano when she was a little girl. Jonathan Swift (the author of Gulliver’s Travels) introduced her to her second husband. The Duchess of Portland was a life long friend and shared Mrs. Delany’s interest in nature and science. The King of England, George III, and his wife, Queen Charlotte, set her up in a little retirement home on the grounds of Windsor castle near the end of her life. It was the Duchess of Portland and the King and Queen who, among others, provided her with the live botanicals to use as models for her art.
The exhibition showcases her other artistic efforts as well. These include shell decoupage, paper silhouettes, embroidery and fashion design. She was quite the renaissance woman. The show concludes with a room by a modern day artist, Jane Wildgoose, who pays tribute to Mrs. Delany’s friendship with the Duchess of Portland and their shared interest in natural curiosities. A room is devoted to actual specimens as well as items created specifically for the exhibit arranged very artfully. Photo from The Moment blog of the New York Times.
I couldn’t help but be reminded of the coral collection of Alexandra Wentworth (the wife of George Stephanopoulos and surely part of today’s intelligentsia) featured recently in the May 2009 Elle Decor:I bet she would be friends with Mrs. Delany back in the day.
You can’t buy Mrs. Delany’s botanicals; they are mostly owned by the British Museum in London. There is one artist, however, that reminds me a bit of her. She is a photographer and her name is Frances Pelzman Liscio. She photographs actual botanicals on a black ground and her work is very detailed, lovely and affordable (starting unframed at $60). I liked her stuff even before I “met” Mrs. Delany. I recommended Liscio to a client who chose a piece for her daughter’s bedroom. I will post a picture when the photograph is framed and installed. Here is an example of Liscio’s work:
Photo courtesy of the Elle Decoration blog. This exact one did not appear available on her web site but there are similar work. Click on Punks and Roses. Liscio surely would have been in Mrs. Delany’s group.
I gotta tell you, Mrs. Delany may not look that cool, but I want to be her friend too.
First photo of a Delany botanical from the Yale Center for British Art. All other photos of Mrs. Delany and her art are from the book Mrs. Delany: Her Life and Her Flowers by Ruth Hayden.