In 1771, at age 71, Mrs. Mary Delany (above) began to create cut out paper artworks (decoupage) as was the fashion for ladies of the court. She called these detailed paper collages—paper mosaicks [sic]. Thanks to a decoupage craze in the 18th century, Mrs. Delany achieved an unexpected fame in the court of George III and Queen Charlotte. The King and Queen were both interested in botany, and admired her botanical accuracy in these exceptional paper mosaicks.
"Passeflora Laurifolia, Bay Leaved"...there are over 230 paper petals in the bloom.
Mrs. Delany supposedly began her intricate paper mosaicks when she noticed the similarity of color between a geranium and a piece of red paper that was on her table. Taking her scissors, she cut out the scarlet paper and, using more colored bits of paper for the leaves and stalk, she created a picture of a geranium.
"Dianthus caryophyllus, a variety of Jersey Pink (carnation)"
Her skill, knowledge, and experience, both in the arts and botany reached their pinnacle with her meticulous flower collages. With the plant specimen set before her, she would cut minute particles of colored paper to represent the petals, stamens, calyx, leaves, veins, stalk and other parts of the plant, and using lighter and darker paper to form the shading. She would then glue the cut paper pieces on to a black paper background. It’s uncertain what kind of glue she used, but it was probably egg-white or flour and water (Mr. Peacock use his trusty Glue Sticks to collage).
"Physalis, Winter Cherry"
Mrs. Delany created 1,700 of these intricate works, from the age of 71 to 88 when her eyesight failed her. Mr. Peacock hopes that he is still working on art projects in his seventh decade.
"Fragaria Vesca, wood strawberry"
It’s hard to believe that Mrs. Delany’s paper mosaicks are over 200 years old. Her work looks like it could be a photo torn out of a spread from Martha Stewart Living magazine.
"Scarlet-flower'd Ipomea, Ipomea Coccinea"
Remember these artworks are not paintings or drawings, but small cut pieces of collaged paper! Each little piece of paper creates a tone and shade of color. Occasionally, Mrs. Delany would glue on a real leaf into the mix.
As you know, Mr. Peacock is a huge fan of decoupage and collage and loves the work of Mrs. Delany. Mr. Peacock’s own collage style is more loose and not as precise as her technique, however, it’s similar in the medium usage of cut pieces of paper and glue.
Mr. Peacock's "Still Life with Eau Dynamisante"
I use cut up bits of magazine pages to create the color and tone in my collaged "paper mosaicks." I usually paint the background or use colored paper.
Here’s the “still life” in my bathroom that I used as the inspiration for my collage piece.
"Crinum Zeylanicum, Asphodil Lilly"
Mrs. Delany’s work can be seen in person in the Enlightenment Gallery at the British Museum. If you happen to be in London on December 17th, the British Museum is hosting a free gallery talk—Mrs. Delany-Flowers and Landscape: Readings from her Letters. Get the full info here. But if you can't get to London, don't worry—buy the book. Mrs. Delany's descendant, Ruth Hayden, published a book on her work: Mrs. Delany; Her Life and Her Flowers. You can buy it here. The history of her life is interesting, although it’s a bit disappointing that this book isn’t an oversized coffee table edition, so you could see each mosaick larger than this small book format.