This is a first: a Friday flowers post without pictures as such. I saw some very special flowers this morning, but photography was out of the question, so words will have to suffice for once.
I was in The British Museum and trying to find some of Mrs. Mary Delany's flower 'mosaicks', the remarkable late 18th. century coloured paper collages (such as this one) of which she made almost 1,000 in the later years of her life. The information desk sent us to Room 1, the Room 1 attendants denied having them, but did check, and then sent us to Room 90; Room 90 had nothing on show, but as we'd been advised to ask, ask we did and gained access - through a locked door - to the Prints and Drawings Study Room where, wearing white gloves, I was allowed to handle ten or a dozen of Mrs. Delany's creations. Having read Molly Peacock's lovely book The Paper Garden: Mrs Delany Begins Her Life's Work at 72, this was both a privilege and a thrill.
Mrs. Delany's Flora Delanica, begun in 1772, came about purely by chance when Mrs. D. noticed a petal fall from a geranium, and having to hand some paper of the same shade as the flower, picked up her scissors, snipped out a replica petal, and began to reproduce the flower in collage form. Over the next ten years she cut and pasted a vast body of botanically accurate 'mosaicks', as she called them, gaining wide recognition and royal patronage.
Molly Peacock's book - there's a snippet of it here - is a warm and lively account of Mary Delany's life, using her pictures as metaphors for its significant events and stages. It lays particular emphasis on finding one's gifts or embarking on one's life's work at an age when others might be giving up creative pursuits, and thus it celebrates late flowering: "An ingenious mind is never too old to learn," as Mrs. Delany said, and as her biographer comments, "the flowers are portraits of the possibilities of age".
As to the pictures themselves, I was struck by the detail captured in the tiniest slivers of paper, the spines of a cactus, the twirl of a tendril, the intricacy of shading on a petal. As Molly Peacock says in her book, "If you make an appointment to see the flower mosaicks in the Prints and Drawings Study Room of the British Museum ... I dare you not to release a dumbfounded syllable or two out of sheer disbelief and disturb the whole staid mahogany room." I did.
(There's more on my London exploits here).