Friday 27 November, 7.00- 9.00pm

Free

‘Bliss Botanic’: Mary Delany’s art of paper mosaic

Cactus grandiflorus or Melon thistle, 1778. Collage of coloured papers, with water colour on black ink background. Height: 345 mm Width: 242mm

Courtesy of the British Museum

Mary Delany (1700 to 1788) was exceptionally talented in the standard female accomplishments of her time, including needle-work and letter writing. Her vivid correspondence provides reference to the central cultural movements and characters of her day, including George Handel, Jonathan Swift, Samuel Johnson, Fanny Burney and Elizabeth Montagu. Today, Delany is remembered foremost for her astonishing invention, at the age of 72, of ‘mosaic’ or cut paper flowers. Using a range of specialist and coloured papers, she would cut the parts of the flowers she observed, freehand, then place them upon pitch black paper to make bold images that have the character of both science and art. She used the Linnaean system of classifying plants according to their sexual parts; her scientific contemporaries, including Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander, relied upon her work as a point of reference. While each image is botanically accurate, it is also a work of design and aesthetic invention, a visual performance that exists in a dimension of its own.

Elizabeth Eger is Reader in English Literature at King’s College London and a paper-cutter.