Mrs. Delany and her Circle

Thursday, September 24, 2009
Sunday, January 3, 2010

This exhibition explored the life, world and work of Mary Delany, née Mary Granville (1700–1788). Though best known for her almost one thousand botanical “paper mosaics” now housed in the British Museum, which she began at the age of seventy-two, 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.

Through landscape drawings, paper cuts and collages, textiles, and manuscript materials, the exhibition showed the range and variety of Mrs. Delany’s art. Among her most extraordinary efforts was a court dress embroidered with a cascade of naturalistic flowers, which united her interests in floriculture and fashion. Parts of this dress had recently been rediscovered and formed the center of a reconstruction of Mrs. Delany’s world. Her art work was shown in the context of natural history, which informed and underpinned her productions. Shells, corals, botanical drawings, and publications related to the collections of the 2nd Duchess of Portland, with whom Mrs. Delany lived and worked alongside, also formed part of the exhibition to allow viewers to reattach the vital threads connecting female accomplishment and the pursuit of science in the eighteenth century.

John Opie, Mary Delany (detail), 1782, oil on canvas, © National Portrait Gallery, London

The Center also mounted a floral display designed by landscape architect Jason  Siebenmorgen, Mrs. Delany’s Flowers, in the Entrance Court to celebrate the relationship between Mrs. Delany’s representations of botanical subjects and her work with living plants in her own garden.

Mrs. Delany and Her Circle was co-organized by the Yale Center for British Art and Sir John Soane’s Museum. The exhibition was curated by Mark Laird, Senior Lecturer, Department of Landscape Architecture, Graduate School of Design, Harvard University, and Alicia Weisberg-Roberts, Assistant Curator of Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Art, The Walters Art Museum.


Yale Center for British Art:
September 24, 2009–January 3, 2010

Sir John Soane’s Museum:
February 19–May 1, 2010