Discovering Mary Delaney (1700-1788)

(Details of) Passiflora Lauri Folia

For some years I had been admiring the intricate artworks of Mary Delaney. The striking black backgrounds making all her flowers stand out and the details dance from the page. Each artwork whilst purveying a sense of accuracy with regards to form, colour and details is also uniquely stylised. A quality giving the collection personality set quite far apart from the usual depictions of Botanical Art from that era.

Quite understandably I had mistaken the artworks for paintings, gouache I had imagined was the medium, particularly with the opaque flat backgrounds in contrast to the layered subtle shades of colour featured in many of the plants. This year I discovered the truth behind these exquisite artworks that in fact they were not paintings, yet made from hundreds and thousands of small pieces of cut paper.

An artistic legacy begins at 72

Staggeringly Mary Delaney took to this exquisite mode of working in her 70’s, after her late husband passed away she sought through her grief by consuming her time with creating new artworks. It is understood that the first illustration she made came purely by chance one afternoon. When she noticed that a piece of paper made a curiously similar resemblance to that of a dropped petal from a Geranium plant.


(Details of) Scarlet Geranium and Lobelia Cardinalis
The floral collage above was Mary Delaneys first, piece of Art in this collection and is now held at The British Museum


Taking inspiration from her initial findings she began to cut, glue and stick small pieces of paper to eventually create an image closely resembling the Geranium. Mary Delaney clearly had the dexterity and great eyesight to work in such a manner that would be challenging for most; let alone beginning such a task and new skill set when many would be winding down anything quite so ambitious. Thankfully she didn’t let age or grief deter her efforts in working skilfully away for many years to come. Her previous explorations in art had been cutting monochrome silhouettes which whilst a meticulous practise, certainly from the onlooker look relatively simple compared to her paper flower artworks.


There are a great number of points from Mary Delaneys creative life that inspires me. It is outstanding to observe  how she produced these simplified versions of nature, using paper, scissors and glue. Beyond the techniques of merely applying the paper, she executes a fine composition and a beautiful rendition of colour with a good degree of accuracy.

The Damask Rose is possibly one of the more well known artworks and holds over 70 pieces of separately cut pieces of paper in the main Rose alone. Delicate petal folds, layer upon layer and including the small paper squares somehow placed with sheer accuracy to replicate the pollen dusted stamen. Being drawn to details myself in this piece I can’t help noticing the way she has even added each tiny Rose thorn, spiking up the stems, which somehow adds to the Botanical nature in the way she understands plants.

I also take from her career her braveness to begin something new so late in life, which really age aside is an incredible feat in itself. In the modern world we live in, fast paced and and full of more opportunity than we could ever imagine, I wonder if we just paused for a moment, whether we would see something so blindingly obvious that we should embrace, that could be a true life changer.

Book review

Each month at the Potager Garden Workshop ‘Botanical Atelier’ I begin the session with a short book review based upon a recent inspiring read. I like to review a book with either relevance to the workshop or to inspire my class. Molly Peacock Author of The Paper Garden, published by Bloomsbury, would be a great further read if you have enjoyed reading this post.

To book a space on my ‘Botanical Atelier’ please click this link to my SHOP and then choose The Potager Garden Workshops.