The woman who invented collage is profiled by Paddy Ryan
The ghostly presence of Mrs Mary Delany cannot be far from Dublin’s Botanic Gardens. Although dead a few years before the Gardens were established, Mrs Delany lived at nearby Delville, now the Bon Secours Hospital.
A keen botanist, her outstanding achievement was the creation of magnificent paper flower collages when she was over seventy years old.
After dissecting a plant or flower, she cut minute particles of different shades of paper to create an exact replica. Not even an insect bite or a touch of black spot was omitted from her paper flowers and leaves.
A friend of Handel and a pupil of Hogarth, Mrs Delany was described by Edmund Burke as ‘the highest bred woman in the world’. Also referred to as ‘that inveterate old gossip’, Mrs. Delany wasn’t slow to record her feelings on any subject.
A prolific letter-writer, her graphic descriptions are masterpieces of observation and invaluable accounts of life in the upper echelons of 18th century Ireland and England.
Acquainted with everybody who was anybody, she regularly visited Dublin Castle, noting who was there, what they said and what they wore. If alive today, Mrs. Delany would be earning a fortune as a gossip columnist!
But her own story is one where truth is stranger than fiction. Born into a well-connected family in 1700, her future seemed rosy with a place at court as a lady-in waiting, followed by a good marriage.