THE PAPER GARDEN
An Artist Begins Her Life at 72
~ by Molly Peacock
October 1772, Mary Delany happened to be watching as the petal of a geranium fell onto the dark surface of a table. Nearby was a bit of paper of a similar color. Inspired, she began her first collage. “I have invented a new way of imitating flowers,” she explained. And she continued to do so, mixing pigments, dissecting plants and occasionally adding parts of them to her compositions, ultimately cutting and gluing together tens of thousands of “the tiniest dots, squiggles, scoops, moons, slivers, islands and loops of brightly colored paper.”
Delany succeeded in creating a new art form, an early form of collage, and by the time of her death at 87 (in 1788), had managed to produce 985 examples of her paper marvels.
In the late 18th century, Mary Delany created nearly a thousand breathtakingly beautiful and intricate paper “mosaicks” of flowers. Glued onto black backgrounds, they were not only stunning but also botanically precise. Today the collages reside in the British Museum.
This biography reads like a Jane Austen novel, describing in great poetic detail, 18th-century English life. In addition to Delany's biography, the author, Molly Peacock, includes her own life’s story and what inspired her to write this book.