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Description: Mrs. Delany and her Circle
~The exhibition Mrs. Delany and her Circle explores the relationship among natural history, art, and sociability. Mrs. Delany, who has long been known as a distinctive voice in the literature on the eighteenth century is here revealed in the full flower of her accomplishments. This exhibition asks questions about the nature of scientific practice, the...
PublisherYale Center for British Art
PublisherYale University Press
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Directors’ Foreword
Description: Magnolia altissima by Catesby, Mark
Figure 1: Mark Catesby after George Dionysius Ehret, ‘Magnolia altissima’, plate 61 from Catesby The Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands, vol. 2 (London, 1743). Collection of Mrs. Paul Mellon, Oak Spring Garden Library
Description: Wildflowers, a Butterfly and a Fly by Robins, Thomas, the elder
Figure 2: Thomas Robins the Elder, Wildflowers, a Butterfly and a Fly, ca. 1760, water- and bodycolor on paper, 11¾ × 8⅝ in. (29.8 × 22 cm). Collection of Mrs. Paul Mellon, Oak Spring Garden Library
Description: Christmas Rose (Helleborus niger) with Tortoiseshell Butterfly by Dietzsch, Barbara...
Figure 3: Barbara Regina Dietzsch, Christmas Rose (Helleborus niger) with Tortoiseshell Butterfly, 18th century, bodycolor on black prepared paper, 11⅜ × 8¼ in. (28.9 × 20.9 cm). Collection of Mrs. Paul Mellon, Oak Spring Garden and Library
Description: Helleborus niger by Delany, Mary Granville
Figure 4: Mary Delany, ‘Helleborus niger, 1773–82, collage of colored papers, with bodycolor and watercolor, 11 × 7⅜ in. (27.8 × 18.8 cm). British Museum, Department of Prints and Drawings (1897,0505.412)
The exhibition Mrs. Delany and her Circle explores the relationship among natural history, art, and sociability. Mrs. Delany, who has long been known as a distinctive voice in the literature on the eighteenth century is here revealed in the full flower of her accomplishments. This exhibition asks questions about the nature of scientific practice, the value of accomplishment, and the place of the amateur, as well as about gender and class as constituent parts of one woman’s life and practice.
The idea for an exhibition on Mrs. Delany arose from a meeting between Mark Laird and Ruth Hayden in 2004. Ruth Hayden’s book, Mrs. Delany, Her Life and Her Flowers (1980) had done much to revive interest in Mrs. Delany, and was responsible for bringing her extraordinary botanical mosaics to a wider public, including those like Mark, with an interest in eighteenth-century gardening. In talking to Ruth and encountering Mrs. Delany’s embroideries, Mark recognized that they provide a superb and under-exploited resource for reconsidering the place of floriculture in eighteenth-century life, and its intersection with a variety of spheres, including those of science, fashion, collecting, and the decorative arts. It is especially delightful that his conversations with Ruth have resulted in an exhibition at the Yale Center for British Art since the initial publication of Ruth’s book was supported by the Center’s founder, Paul Mellon, and Mrs. Paul Mellon has lent so generously to the current project from the Oak Spring Garden Library. It has been a great pleasure to consult with Ruth throughout the process of creating this exhibition and publication.
In crafting the project the curators and editors, Mark Laird and Alicia Weisberg-Roberts, have brought together an outstanding group of scholars. Through the workshops, symposia, and archival visits undertaken in pursuing research for the exhibition, a vibrant community of Delany scholars has taken shape. This volume and the exhibition represent the immediate fruits of their labors. We would like to extend our deepest thanks to Mark and Alicia and to the other contributors to this book: Clarissa Campbell Orr, Clare Browne, Hannah Greig, Amanda Vickery, Kim Sloan, Maria Zytaruk, Janice Neri, John Edmondson, Lisa Ford, Kohleen Reeder, Peter Bower, and Charles Nelson. All of the authors have undertaken considerable original research, drawing on their diverse fields of expertise with characteristic insight and bringing much fresh material to light.
We also would like to express our immeasurable gratitude to more than forty private individuals and public institutions; they have lent objects to this exhibition, enabling us to construct a truly representative picture of the intellectual richness, artistic brilliance, and personal charm of Mrs. Delany’s world.
It is with great pleasure that we use the occasion of Mrs. Delany and her Circle to introduce an important group of botanical paper collages ascribed to the Hon. Booth Grey. William Booth Grey (1740–1802) was the brother-in-law of Henrietta Bentinck, daughter of the Duchess of Portland, and hence known to Mrs. Delany. These collages (ca. 1790), recently acquired by the Yale Center for British Art and made in a technique derived directly from that of Mrs. Delany, have broadened our sense of the scope of this particular practice of accomplishment. They also have provided an opportunity to make a close technical examination of late eighteenth-century paper mosaics. This research was undertaken by Kohleen Reeder, then Postgraduate Research Associate in Paper Conservation at the Center and now Book and Paper Conservator at the J. Willard Marriott Library, The University of Utah in Salt Lake City. Kohleen was supported in her work by the staff of the Department of Paper Conservation at the Yale Center for British Art and was offered invaluable technical assistance by Henry A. DePhillips Jr., Vernon K. Krieble Professor of Chemistry at Trinity College, Hartford, and Peter Bower, forensic paper historian and paper analyst.
This book also publishes for the first time the text of Mrs. Delany’s 1759 “moral romance,” Marianna, the manuscript of which is now in the collection of the Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington. Marianna is Mrs. Delany’s most extended and ambitious foray into fiction, and encapsulates the closely intertwined strands of female friendship, pedagogy, moralism, and natural philosophy that inform so many of her endeavors. Many of the key issues of eighteenth-century intellectual life were couched in the form of fantasy, and the publication of Marianna here expands our sense of Mrs. Delany’s engagement with the literary culture of her time. Characteristically, Mrs. Delany’s tale is also lovingly-wrought and good-humored, intended to entertain as much as instruct. We are particularly grateful to the Lilly Library for allowing Alicia Weisberg-Roberts to transcribe Marianna and present it here.
In the course of preparing for this exhibition, we have been aided greatly by the staff of the British Museum. In addition to extending their help and expertise to our curators and researchers at every point, the Museum staff has also digitized the entire corpus of the “Flora Delanica”. This facilitated the research and preparation for this exhibition, proving the extraordinary benefits that making their vast collections electronically available affords to scholarship in many fields. In the present case, the improved accessibility of the botanical collages has enabled botanical analysis, an ongoing project begun by John Edmondson and Charles Nelson, whose first fruits are published here. An authoritative scientific catalogue of the near one thousand collages is a desideratum for the future. This would involve an expansion of the tasks already undertaken by John and Charles for this book including accurate transcripts of the master list itself along with recto labels and verso texts; accurate identification of species figured, with commentaries on any nomenclatural issues; supporting research into representations by contemporary botanical artists (including those in the Booth Grey collection) of the plants Delany delineated; and, more extensively, an analysis of the date and means of introduction into cultivation in Britain of the plants depicted in the collages.
It is hoped that by making available these and the many other works shown in Mrs. Delany and her Circle to the scholarly community, this exhibition and publication will inspire additional investigation into the many questions they raise. We are particularly hopeful that the archival and topographical material relating to Delville and Bulstrode, some of it reproduced for the first time, will act as a spur to further research on the lost landscapes that were so important to Mrs. Delany.
While staff members at both Sir John Soane’s Museum and the Yale Center for British Art are thanked more fully in the acknowledgements, we would like to give credit here to certain individuals who have contributed in essential and significant ways to the exhibition and book. At Sir John Soane’s Museum, Jerzy J. Kierkuć-Bieliński, Exhibitions Curator, has given invaluable assistance and facilitation; at the Yale Center for British Art, Theresa Fairbanks-Harris, Chief Paper Conservator, and her department, provided outstanding logistical and intellectual contributions to this project; Julia Marciari Alexander, formerly Associate Director of Exhibitions and Publications at the Yale Center for British Art, and now Deputy Director for Curatorial Affairs at the San Diego Museum of Art, led the way through the initial challenges of mounting this exhibition; Eleanor Hughes, Assistant Curator in the Department of Exhibitions and Publications, carried forward that momentum through the exhibition and publication, overseeing logistics and support at both institutions, including securing loans for the exhibition and images for the publication. Finally, we extend our thanks to Derek Birdsall, R.D.I., for designing this beautiful book, and to our Publisher, Sally Salvesen of Yale University Press, for overseeing all of the processes that have brought it so elegantly into print.
Amy Meyers
Director, Yale Center for British Art
Tim Knox
Director, Sir John Soane’s Museum
Directors’ Foreword
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