A LEGACY OF NEEDLEWORK – Part Two – Mrs. Delany Continued

A few years ago I had the opportunity to visit an exhibition called “Mrs. Delany and Her Circle,” at the Yale Center for British Art. The show, organized by the Center for British Art and Sir John Soane’s Museum in London, included work in every conceivable medium.

Tiffany and Company were inspired to create a china pattern called “Mrs. Delany’s Flowers.”

One of the items included in the exhibition was the needlework Mrs. Delany executed on a black ground for the court dress mentioned in a previous post and shown here.

The piece of fabric was placed between two panes of glass, allowing visitors to examine it closely. I have been doing crewel, embroidery and needlepoint for decades and must say that I’ve never seen anything so astonishing. Mrs. Delany’s stitches were neat and well placed, but that was only the beginning. The reverse of the fabric had been as neatly wrought as the front, with nary a knot in sight. The threads were as vibrantly coloured today as they must have been two hundred years ago, showing the detail of the design and the subtlety of color variations throughout the work. It is astonishing to realize that the designs for Mrs. Delany’s work originated in her own mind. Perhaps she worked her pieces directly from that picture in her mind’s eye. However, she was also able to translate those designs onto other pieces of fabrics and to write instructions and colour directions down, thus making needlework “kits” for her friends and family to execute.

In 1861, Augusta Hall (Baroness Llanover) edited a volume called The Autobiography and Correspondence of Mary Granville, Mrs. Delany. In the appendix, the editor wrote:

“Were it possible to give a list of the work designed and executed by Mrs. Delany with the needle, independent of the quantity of various works in various ways designed by her for her friends to execute, it would be a much more extraordinary exemplification of what may be achieved by human industry and ingenuity, aided by natural talent, than the catalogue of her paintings. The Editor is not able to give an account of more than the specimens of Mrs. Delany’s needlework which are in her own possession, and that of her sister, and a few other relations. Of these are a number of chairs, the backs and seats of which are embroidered in a manner entirely different to anything that has ever (in the knowledge of the Editor) been done for a similar purpose. They consist of magnificent groups of flowers from nature, some on light and some on dark grounds, all different from each other, and all executed in worsted chenille, (made upon linen thread;) possessing the finest semi-tones of colour, which produce a variety of tint and harmony, as well as depth of colour, which never appear in the modern dyes of wool of any description. Some of these chairs are worked in embroidery stitch upon canvas, by which means the utmost freedom of outline was possible, and the most exact imitation of nature. In other sets of chairs cloth was used as the ground upon which the outline of the flowers must have been sketched, and the shades and colours filled in by sewing down the worsted chenilles by the eye, and cutting them off where required. These specimens prove Mrs. Delany’s marvellous talent for design, as well as ability in execution, and are suitable for furniture which though ornamental was yet useful; but there also exist bed hangings, and chair and sofa covers, which combine in as remarkable a manner striking effect with every day utility. Some of these were the covers of her drawing-room chairs in London, where the ground was brilliant dark blue linen, bordered with leaves cut out by herself in white linen, and edged and veined with white knotting of different sorts and thickness, sewed down along the edge. A bed completed by herself, and her sister Ann Granville, was of nankeen, with designs executed in white linen, for the headboard and hangings, all different, but well adapted to the various parts, and of a washing material, the durability of which as well as the excellence of the work is best proved by its endurance for near a hundred years in continual use! Mrs. Delany did not employ silk for her furniture, but woollen or linen materials; and the worsted chenilles, made on linen thread, never were attacked by the moths: there is now a box of them in the Editor’s possession left from Mrs. Delany’s work, which are still fit for use; it ought also to be mentioned that all these chenilles were wound on two cards folded together by herself in a peculiar manner, which prevented the chenilles being cut by the edges of the cards.”

Mrs. Delany died April 10th, 1788, and was interred in a vault belonging to St. James’ church, where a monument has been erected to her memory.

For further reading on Mrs. Delany read Mrs. Delany: Her Life and Her Flowers by Ruth Hayden (ISBN: 071418022X / 0-7141-8022-X ); Mrs. Delany (Mary Granville): A Memoir, 1700-1788 by George Paston (ISBN: 1150362642 ) and The Autobiography and Correspondence of Mary Granville, Mrs. Delany by Augusta Hall (Baroness Llanover).

A LEGACY OF NEEDLEWORK – Mrs. Delany

Mary Granville, or Mrs. Delany, is remembered for her letters and for her elaborate paper flower work and her magnificent needlework. What’s most remarkable about Mrs. Delany is the fact that she only hit her artistic stride after reaching the age of 72! Twice widowed with no children, Mrs. Delany became a royal favorite and sought after by society, numbering Handel, Jonathan Swift, the Duchess of Portland, Fanny Burney and the king and queen of England among her closest friends, all while executing an astonishing body of work that includes the Flora Delanica – almost 1,000 botanical collages that took a decade to complete.

Mary Granville was married at seventeen to the Cornish squire, Alexander Pendarves of Roscrow, who was more than forty years older than she and described by a contemporary as being ‘ugly, disagreeable and gouty’. After he died in 1724, Mary discovered that she’d been left annuity in the hundreds of pounds, far less than she’d anticipated, yet enough to allow her travel amongst relatives and forge ties and friendships that would serve her well in later life.

In the following years, Mary designed an unusual court dress of intricately detailed floral embroidery on black satin. Portions of the dress, preserved in frames by her heirs, reveal the sort of attention to detail that would later be the hallmark of her lifelike floral collages.

While in Dublin in 1740, Mary met Patrick Delany, a Anglican cleric, widower and close friend of Swift’s who would become her second husband in 1743. The marriage was a true love match and Mary flourished under Mr. Delany’s affection and his support of her talents. She had her own workroom at their home in Ireland, with a large bow window overlooking the gardens. Here, Mary made landscape drawings, silhouettes and “japanned” (lacquered) objects. A larger project was the garden grotto Mary designed and executed at  Alexander Pope’s estate.

Upon Mr. Delany’s death in 1768, Mary took up residence with her friend and fellow widow the Duchess of Portland. It was the Duchess who introduced Mrs. Delany to Queen Charlotte, and she became a firm favourite at court, where her talents, intellect and ‘social refinement’ were much admired.

Mrs Delany’s tools from needlework pocket-book, given by Queen Charlotte to Mrs Delany, 1781.

The Duchess of Portland died in 1785, and the King and Queen, concerned for the welfare of their old friend, offered Mrs. Delany an annuity and a small house at Windsor.

Queen Charlotte

On September 3rd, Queen Charlotte wrote: ‘My dear Mrs. Delany will be glad to hear that I am charged by the king to summon her to her new abode at Windsor for Tuesday next, when she will find all the most essential parts of the house ready, excepting some little trifles that it will be better for Mrs. Delany to direct herself in person or by her little deputy, Miss Port. I need not, I hope, add that I shall be extremely glad and happy to see so amiable an inhabitant in this our sweet retreat, and wish very sincerely that our dear Mrs. Delany may enjoy every blessing among us that her merits deserve, and that we may long enjoy her amiable company. Amen. These are the true sentiments of my dear Mrs. Delany’s very affectionate queen, Charlotte.’

Mrs. Delany wrote the following account of her arrival at Windsor to her friend Mrs. Hamilton : ‘I arrived here about eight o’clock in the evening and found his Majesty in the house ready to receive me. I threw myself at his feet, indeed unable to utter a word; he raised and saluted me, and said he meant not to stay longer than to desire I would order everything that could make the house comfortable and agreeable to me, and then retired. Truly, I found nothing wanting, as it is as pleasant and commodious as I could wish it to be, with a very pretty garden, which joins that of the Queen’s Lodge. The next morning her Majesty sent one of her ladies to know how I had rested, and how I was in health, and whether her coming would not be troublesome. I was lame, and therefore could not go down to the door as I ought to have done, but her Majesty came upstairs. Our meeting was mutually affecting; she well knew the value of what I had lost, and it was some time after we were seated before either of us could speak. She repeated in the strongest terms her wish and the king’s, that I should be as easy and happy as they could possibly make me; that they waived all ceremony, and desired to come to me as friends! The queen also delivered me a paper from the king: it contained the first quarter of £300 per annum, which his majesty allows me out of his privy purse. Their majesties have drunk tea with me five times, and the princesses three. They generally stay two hours or longer. In short, I have either seen them or heard of them every day, but I have not yet been at the Queen’s Lodge, though they have expressed impatience for me to come, as I have still so sad a drawback on my spirits that I must decline that honour till I am better able to enjoy it, and they have the goodness not to press me. Their visits here are paid in the most quiet, private manner, like those of the most consoling, disinterested friends; so that I may truly say they are a royal cordial, and I see very few people besides. I have been three times in the king’s private chapel at early prayers, where the royal family constantly attend, and they walk home to breakfast afterwards, whilst I am conveyed in a very elegant chair which the king has made me a present of for that purpose.

While at Windsor, Mrs. Delany would befriend Fanny Burney and receive regular visits from Mrs. Garrick, the late actor’s widow. Perhaps it was the Duchess of Portland’s friendship that had the most influence on the art Mrs. Delany would undertake later in life. Each year, Mrs. Delany made a visit of several months to Bulstrode, the duchess’s estate in Buckinghamshire, where she had access to an extraordinary cabinet of curiosities that included rare and exotic plants and flowers. Also at Bulstrode were the botanist John Lightfoot, the botanical artist Georg Dionysius Ehret and other advocates of the revolutionary taxonomy developed by the Swedish scientist Carl Linnaeus. Mrs. Delany observed their dissections of flowers and taught herself the art of the “hortus siccus,” or pressed-flower composition. These experiments would give her the knowledge and understanding of flowers that would breathe life into her collages.

Eventually, Mrs. Delany devised a means of cutting tiny pieces of paper to create her flower collages and she went on to create several volumes of these ‘paper mosaic’ plants and flowers. So amazing were their realistic qualities that King George III ordered the volumes to be preserved in the British Museum “as a standard work of art unparalleled for accuracy of drawing, form, and perspective, as well as colouring, truth of outline, and close resemblance to nature.” Horace Walpole called her collages “precision and truth unparalleled,” while author William Gilpin wrote, “These flowers have both the beauty of painting, and the exactness of botany.”

Part Two coming soon!

BOXING DAY — WHAT IN THE WORLD?

In Britain, the day after Christmas is known as Boxing Day.  Every December 26 I wonder what in the world that means — and I never find out for sure.  Maybe someone can tell me, Victoria, what it is. Definitively!

This Cartoon has the right spirit IMHO

Here’s what Wikipedia says: “The exact etymology of the term “boxing day” is unclear. There are several competing theories, none of which is definitive.”  This comes after they have already defined Boxing Day as a time when servants get their gifts.

So I turned to Snopes — which says the claim that Boxing Day means it is time to get rid of Christmas boxes is false… so where besides Nordstrom’s do stores have boxes any more?

Snopes goes on: “The holiday’s roots can be traced to Britain, where Boxing Day is also known as St. Stephen’s Day. Reduced to the simplest essence, its origins are found in a long-ago practice of giving cash or durable goods to those of the lower classes. Gifts among equals were exchanged on or before Christmas Day, but beneficences to those less fortunate were bestowed the day after. And that’s about as much as anyone can definitively say about its origin because once you step beyond that point, it’s straight into the quagmire of debated claims and dueling folklorists.”

I was amazed to find how many images Google has for Boxing Day, though they hardly solve the mystery.
As far as I can tell around here (midwest US), it’s the day to run around and buy next year’s decorations and wrappings at half price. Perhaps the cats should have the last word on the subject!

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

One of our favourite Christmas movies of all time at Number One London is Bridget Jones’s Diary. Taking our inspiration from the film, here are our Christmas wishes to you . . . . .

 

May you always be surrounded by good friends

 

May you always find the perfect thing to wear

 

May you always find joy in singing out loud

 

May you never run out of a supply of emergency ice cream

 

May you use your gift cards wisely

 

May you never run out of good books to read

 

May you always be up for new challenges

 

 

May you experience good will towards men

 

 

May all your recipes turn out perfectly

 

May you always have good hair days

 

May you never be forced to wear an ugly Christmas sweater

and . . . . .

may you always realize your heart’s desire

  Merry Christmas!

THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS

December 25th

My Own Heart – The London coach arrived today, bringing with it your gift of a partridge and a pear tree. You are too clever by half!
Yours For Eternity

December 26th

My Love – Two turtle doves! How simply smashing. I cannot wait to see you again that I might thank you personally. You are too droll.
For Ever and Ever

December 27th

Darling – There we were, my footman and I, dispensing bird seed when what should arrive at Blicking Hall but three French hens. You cannot imagine the look they brought to the footman’s face. Truly, you shouldn’t have.
Always

December 28th

Sweetheart – Four calling birds. How quaint. You should know that my lady’s maid is making noises about leaving the Hall. The footman is none too happy, either, although the local carpenter is quite over the moon to have been hired to construct the aviary. Typically, work is scarce for him at this time of year.
Love

December 29th

Dearest – How could you do this to me? I do not mean to be short with you, but none of us here has gotten much sleep of late, what with all the billing, cooing, chirping and calling the birds are wont to do.
Yours
P.S. Thank you for the five golden rings.

December 30th

Dear – Now you’ve done it. Cook is quite put out by the six geese laying in her kitchen, and no wonder. You must end this. Accomplished cooks are difficult to come by in the country.
As Ever

December 31st

Dear Sir – I am most heartily sick of the sight of feathers. Your seven swans arrived today and are swimming in the ornamental fountain in the conservatory. Oldham has been snorting at me disdainfully all morning. Have you ever been snorted at by your butler? It’s off putting, to say the least.
Happy New Year

January 1st

Sir – Is there a market for spare goose eggs? The eight maids you sent today are a welcome sight, what with all the seeds and feathers we have to sweep up hourly here. Once they have finished with that, the maids intend to walk to the village, where they are determined to help with the milking. Wherever shall they all sleep?
Please Cease and Desist

January 2nd

To Whom It May Concern – This daily gift giving business is no longer amusing. The entire village have followed the nine drummers drumming to our door. The staff are up in arms, save for the footman, who has not been seen since shortly after the eight maids arrived.
Stop it!

January 3rd

You black hearted scoundrel – the magistrate appeared at Blicking Hall today. It transpires that the villagers are being driven to distraction by the ten pipers and their constant piping. Perhaps you should have sent mimes.

January 4th

Could you not have sent the eleven ladies dancing to Almack’s instead of to me? Do these outrageous gifts have anything to do with the betting book at White’s? Is that idiot Brummell somehow involved? Have you a good receipt for fowl fricassee?

January 5th

My entire staff have deserted me, taking with them the maids, pipers, dancing ladies and, blessedly, the drummers. There is the tiniest bit of good news – I have been given to understand that some of them have made successful matches and are currently bound for Gretna Green. I was headed to my rooms with a bottle of port when who should arrive but twelve lords a leaping. And what lords they are – so handsome, so gallant, so utterly divine! How could I have doubted your intentions? Please give my regards to all in London, as I fear I shall be much too occupied here at Blicking Hall to partake of the Season.
Your Most Grateful Friend