Friday, May 4, 2012

Mary Delany, Artist and Personality

by Lauren Gilbert

Born Mary Granville on 5/14/1700 in Wiltshire, England, Mary was the daughter of a Tory aristocratic family who were supporters of the Stuart crown.  From the age of eight, she lived with her aunt and uncle, Lord and Lady Stanley, who were close to the court.  Lady Stanley had hopes of Mary’s becoming a Maid of Honor, and educated her accordingly.  Lady Stanley brought Mary into close contact with court circles.  Unfortunately, the death of Queen Anne in 1714 ended those hopes with the introduction of the Hanoverian line with King George I.   
     Skilled, in painting, needlework, and other crafts, and an ardent music lover (she became acquainted with Handel through Lady Stanley), Mary was an accomplished young woman when she went to live with her uncle Lord Landsdowne at Longleat.  She was described by Edmund Burke as “a woman of fashion for all the ages.”  Lord Landsdowne was an intimate friend of Pope and Swift.   Because of her parents’ financial straits, and Lord Landsdowne’s political aspirations, at the age of seventeen, Mary was forced to marry Alexander Pendarves, who was 60 years old and a member of Parliament.  Mr. and Mrs. Pendarves moved to London in 1721, where she was able to renew her friendships at court and in society.  Unfortunately, the marriage, which had not been good to start with, deteriorated as Mr. Pendarves became a heavy drinker and very jealous of attention paid to his young wife.  He died in 1724, leaving Mary a young widow.  He left her only a few hundred pounds per year on which to leave, and no home of her own.

    Mary’s  widowhood actually brought her a greater freedom of movement than she could have had as either an unmarried or a married woman.  She was able to socialize, attend concerts, and basically please herself.  She lived with her aunt, Lady Stanley, again, as well as with other friends, particularly Margaret Bentinck, Duchess of Portland.  She travelled to Ireland, where she became acquainted with Dr. Patric Delany, an Anglican pastor.  She hoped for an appointment to the royal household, which did not come to pass, but became an close and loyal friend of the royal family.  She was unsatisfied with choices available to women; she was against marriage as a necessity, and felt that marriage should be a matter of choice only.  She engaged in a massive correspondence writing about her interests.    She also had a relationship with Lord Baltimore, which ended in 1730, after she came to feel he was trifling with her affections.

Mary Granville Delany, by John Opie 1782

     In 1743, Mary married Dr. Delany, whose wife had died, and lived with him for the next 25 years in Dublin, where her focus was on gardening and her botanical interests, shell art, needlework, gilding and many other crafts, and she continued her voluminous correspondence.  Sadly, Mr. Delany died in 1768.  She lost interest in her other pastimes.  In 1771, she combined her interest in botany and crafts by creating what she called “paper mosaicks”.  These were extremely intricate, detailed and botanically accurate pictures of plants and flowers, made of tiny pieces of paper cut and pasted in layers.    
     In these later years of her life, Mary had a house near Queen’s Lodge at Windsor, given to her by King George III and Queen Charlotte who also visited her there, and spent at least half the year with the Duchess of Portland. Her eyesight failed in 1782, and she died in 1788.  She left ten albums of her mosaics, HORTUS SICCUS,  which ultimately went to the British Museum in 1897.  Although she was a woman of parts, noted for her botanical knowledge and artistic abilities in many areas, her wit and her charm, ultimately it is her paper mosaics which have kept her fame alive.
Paston, George.  MRS. DELANY (MARY GRANVILLE) A Memoir.  London: Grant Richards, 1900.  Via Internet Archive  (e-book).
British Museum website.  Mary Delany(British; Female; 1700-1788).
NEW YORK TIMES Magazine Blog. Port, Andy.  “NOW  SHOWING/Mary Delany A Force of Nature.” 9/29/2009.
The Peak of Chic Blog.  Mary Delany and Her Paper Mosaicks.  Posted 9/4/2008.
Venetian Red Blog.  Cariati, Christine.  Flora Delanica: Art and Botany in Mrs. Delany’s “paper mosaicks.” Posted 12/4/2009.
Wikipedia.  Mary Delany. 
Women and the Garden Blog.  Mary Granville Pendarves Delany 1700-1788.  Posted by Patty (last name unknown) 4/2011  

By Lauren Gilbert, author of HEYERWOOD: A Novel.  Visit!

1 comment:

  1. What an interesting and fascinating woman! Thanks for sharing.


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