Think retirement is just board games and rocking chairs? Think again.
Mary Granville Pendarves Delany (right) used her retirement as an opportunity to explore her artistic side and in doing so, invented the enduring art form known as collage. The brilliance of her work has been carefully preserved and reproductions are now on display in the Scott Library.
Born in 1700, she was a British intellectual or “bluestocking” – a term used to describe educated women in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.
As a young woman, Mary Granville was groomed to become a “maid of honour”, or lady-in-waiting to Queen Anne; however the monarch’s untimely death in 1714 meant an unhappy early marriage for young Mary. At just 17, she was “married off” by her family to a much older British politician, Alexander Pendarves, who was in his 60th year.
Pendarves, who suffered from gout and other maladies related to excessive alcohol consumption, died in 1724, leaving his young wife virtually penniless. She was forced to live with relatives until she was introduced to Patrick Delany, an Irish clergyman. The two fell in love and were married in 1743. They lived happily into old age and pursued a mutual love of art and botany. It was only after the death of her second husband that Delany went on to create her greatest artistic triumphs.
Left: Asphodil Lily by Mary Delany
Delany started her first work in collage in 1772 when she happened to notice a piece of coloured paper that exactly matched a geranium petal. From then on, she devoted countless hours creating brilliant paper reproductions of flowers and plants, cutting and matching hundreds of minute bits of hand-painted material to mimic nature’s patterns and colours.
Peter Duerr and Dana Craig, both reference librarians in the Scott Library, have created an exhibit of Delany’s work, which will be on display until June 21.
“We assembled a number of reproductions of these mosaics along with information about the several works in the York University Library system that focus on her life and art,” says Duerr. “The exhibit is in the two display cases are on the first floor of the Scott Library, just in the alcove past the entrance.”
Right: Magnolia by Mary Delany
Lest anyone imagine this artistic production was somehow a excessively prim and delicate undertaking, there are few points to consider when viewing Delany’s artwork. “Almost all of the papers had to be hand dyed, a process that needed a mortar and pestle to grind the hundreds of pigments,” says Duerr.
Delany also made use of ox gall, an alkaline compound harvested from the gall bladders of slaughtered cattle because it helped the paint flow more easily. Honey was incorporated into the black dye with greater stability and was used for her backgrounds. All of the papers would have to be hung to dry out.
Left: Court Dress by Mary Delany
“The process was a very chaotic, messy and ‘fragrant’ one that demanded a massive amount of effort to complete,” says Duerr.
“She only stopped in 1788 at the age of 88 when her failing eyesight could no longer distinguish the finer points of the artwork.”
For more on the life and work of Mrs. Mary Granville Pendarves Delany, see this review of The Paper Garden (2010), a biography of Delany written by Molly Peacock.