Fate Brings Fortune
On this day, the botanical tissue paper decoupage artist Mary Delaney wrote to her sister about her garden.
Mary Delaney had an extraordinary life. Her family had forced her to marry a sixty-year-old man when she was 17. He was an alcoholic. To make matters worse, when he died, he forgot to include her in his will.
Despite her lack of inheritance, Mary realized that, as a widow, she had much more freedom than she had as a single young lady. In society, she could do as she pleased.
Fate brought fortune for Mary when love came knocking on her door in June 1743. Mary met an Irish doctor named Patrick Delaney. He was also a pastor. Although her family wasn't thrilled with the idea of a second marriage to the son of a servant, Mary did it anyway. She and Patrick moved to his home in Dublin, and his garden was a thing of beauty, which leads us to the letter Mary wrote to her sister on this day in 1744. Mary wrote:
"[The] fields are planted in a wild way, forest trees and … bushes that look so natural... you would not imagine it a work of art ... [There is] a very good kitchen garden and two fruit gardens which ... will afford us a sufficient quantity of everything we can want. There are several prettinesses I can't explain to you — little wild walks, private seats, and lovely prospects. One seat I am particularly fond of [is] in a nut grove, and [there is] a seat in a rock … [that] is placed at the end of a cunning wild path. The brook ... entertains you with a purling rill."
Mary and Patrick were happily married for twenty-five years.
When Patrick died, Mary was widowed again; this time at the age of 68.
But Mary's life was not over.
She hit it off with Margaret Bentinck. Bentinck was the Duchess of Portland, and together they pursued botanical activities. They loved to go out into the fields and collect specimens. It was thanks to the Duchess that Mary got to know Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander.
When Mary was in her early 70s, she took up decoupage - which was all the rage at the time - and she created marvelous depictions of flowers. Today, historians believe Mary probably dissected plants to create her art. Botanists from all over Europe would send her specimens. King George the Third and Queen Charlotte were her patrons. They ordered any curious or beautiful plant to be sent to Mary when in blossom so she could use them to create her art.
Her paper mosaics, as Mary called them, were made out of tissue paper. Mary created almost 1000 pieces of art between the ages of 71 and 88.
If you ever see any of her most spectacular decoupage pieces, you'll be blown away at the thought of them being made from tiny pieces of tissue paper by Mary Delaney in the twilight of her life in the late 1700s.