Set of 4 original, hand-painted plant collages (1840s)


Watercolour on cut paper; laid down on cream paper
Newly-framed as pictured

29cm x 25cm in the frame


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Four delicate collages of (clockwise from top left) an Orange Azalea, Purple Gladiolus, Penstemon & Angelwing Begonia, composed of intricately cut, hand-painted coloured paper and petals of painted pith. Laid down on cream paper. The names of the flowers are inscribed by hand on the left of each picture. There is a blind embossed stamp of a thistle and rose on the overleaf in the upper left corner.

This collection of rare 1840s paper ‘plant collages’ comes from the circle of Mary Delany (1700-1788), a wealthy widow, artist and member of the Blue Stockings Society who is most well-known for what she called ‘Paper Mosaiks’. Combining highly accurate botanical detail with painstaking handwork in paint and scissor, these works represented the height of artistic fashion and skill in the world of early Victorian botanical illustration.

Mary Delany was, by all accounts, a highly convivial character. Widowed in her early twenties, her second husband died when she was sixty-eight, leaving her a comfortable fortune, which she used to pursue art in her twilight years. Her paper decoupage artworks – which she executed between the ages of 71 and 88 – were a highly skilled and detailed combination of painted and coloured papers, cut out and layered by hand and accented with painted pith and even elements of real flowers.

These works of artistry, sometimes comprising hundreds of delicate pieces, were well known throughout England, and she counted amongst her many admirers King George III and Queen Charlotte, who bequeathed her a house at Windsor and a pension, often sending their best botanical specimens to be captured in her art. She executed upwards of 1,700 of these works, laid down on black hand-painted paper, which were bequeathed in 1896 to the British Museum by Lady Llandover, the daughter of her great friend Georgina Mary Ann Port. They are still on view today – their botanical accuracy as ‘virtual plants’ so impressive that botanists still refer to them. A recent biography detailing her life, Mrs. Delany: Her Life and Flowers, was published in 2000.