Inspiring women: Mary Delany (née Granville)

Mary Delany (née Granville) (b. 1770) was an English Bluestocking and although she was always an avid artist, it wasn't until late in life (at 71) that she began making the flower collages for which she is now famous. Her exceptional works were botanically accurate depictions, created using tissue paper and hand colouration. She created 1,700 of these works, calling them her "Paper Mosaiks" and stopped only when her eyesight failed her.

Delany had a number of unhappy marriages and shockingly, for the time, questioned the very necessity of the married state, saying "Why must women be driven to the necessity of marrying? a state that should always be a matter of choice! and if a young woman has not fortune sufficient to maintain her in the situation she has been bred to, what can she do, but marry?" (source)

Although she did indeed have that sufficient fortune (she was a friend of Handel and the correspondent of Swift), she married again. However, a final marriage was a happy one. She married an Irish clergyman and lived for 25 years near Dublin, where they shared an interest in their garden and where Delany honed her botanical knowledge.

I have a loose rule about the place of privileged women in this series... because the inspiring women I blog are supposed to be relatable. But Mary Delany although privileged, was also singular. She was unconventional and exhibited an energy and appetite for new pursuits when most people are winding down. I love the idea that I might take up and excel things later in life that I can't even conceive of now. And that there's always time to fulfill dreams.

Mrs.Delany: Her Life and Her Flowers
Mrs. Delany and Her Circle (Yale Centre for British Art)
Mary Delany archive at the British Library

Image credits: Rosa Gallica collage from The British Library / Mary Delany (née Granville) by John Opie from the National Portrait Gallery, London
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