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Mrs Delany and her Circle

"This exhibition will explore the life, world and work of Mary Delany, née Mary Granville (1700 1788). Though best known for her almost one thousand botanical "paper mosaics" now housed in the British Museum, which she began at the age of 72, Mrs. Delany used her craft activities to cement bonds of friendship and negotiate complex, interlinked social networks throughout a long life passed in artistic, aristocratic, and court circles in Georgian England and Ireland.

Through landscape drawings, paper cuts and collages, textiles, and manuscript materials, the exhibition will show the range and variety of Mrs. Delany's art. Among her most extraordinary efforts was a court dress embroidered with a cascade of naturalistic flowers, which united her interests in floriculture and fashion. Parts of this dress have recently been rediscovered and will form the center of a reconstruction of Mrs. Delany's world. Her art work will be shown in the context of natural history, which informed and underpinned her productions. Shells, corals, botanical drawings, and publications related to the collections of the 2nd Duchess of Portland, with whom Mrs. Delany lived and worked alongside, will also form part of the exhibition, allowing viewers to reattach the vital threads connecting female accomplishment and the pursuit of science in the eighteenth century.

Mrs. Delany and Her Circle has been co-organized by the Yale Center for British Art and Sir John Soane's Museum. It will be accompanied by a major publication that will serve as an exhibition catalogue, and will contain essays addressing many aspects of Mrs. Delany's life, craftwork, and letters in the wider context of eighteenth-century culture.

Special Installations

Promiscuous Assemblage, Friendship, & The Order of Things

Accompanying the exhibition Mrs. Delany and her Circle are two special installations. Promiscuous Assemblage, Friendship, & The Order of Things, by London-based artist Jane Wildgoose, celebrates and commemorates the friendship between Mary Delany and the Duchess of Portland. The Duchess's magnificent "Portland Museum"a collection of natural history specimens and curiosities with which Mary Delany was intimately familiar was sold in 1786 in a spectacular auction comprising more than four thousand lots that took place over thirty-eight days. Working in close association with curators at the Yale Center for British Art, the Peabody Museum of Natural History, the Yale University Art Gallery, and Sir John Soane's Museum in London, Ms. Wildgoose developed site-specific installations for the Center and the Soane Museum. The installations combine a wealth of exotic and curious natural history specimens reflecting the range of lots at the sale, from "Shells, Corals, Minerals" to "Curious Exotic Insects" to the eggs of the "Alligator, Turtle, Lizard & Snake," as well as china and rare books selected in response to descriptions of the domestic settings in which the Duchess housed her museum. Evoking the "promiscuous assemblage" described in the preface to the catalogue that accompanied the auction, written by the botanist John Lightfoot, the installations also incorporate objects specially devised and made for the project that take their inspiration from accounts of Mary Delany's handiwork made as gifts for her friend, and as decorations for her own home. The design points to ways in which natural history displays from the eighteenth century may be understood to reflect something of the manners, taste, and material culture of the people who assembled them. It also offers a tribute to the two women's enduring, productive friendship, which was informed and sustained by shared interests in the fine and decorative arts, as well as natural science.

The Center also features a floral display in its Entrance Court evoking the relationship between Mrs. Delany's work with living plants in the garden and her representations of botanical subjects in her collages and embroideries. The display, designed by landscape architect Jason Siebenmorgen, consists of a "theater" of plants in three tiers and a curtain of preserved flowers of species depicted by Mrs. Delany. "Theater" was a key motif of eighteenth-century horticulture and planting design and Mrs. Delany was among the first in Britain to create an outdoor stage for the display of plants, an "auricula theater" at Delville in 1746. After 1750, the theatrical planting of shrubberies and flower beds became the hallmark of English gardens. The garden at Delville, the eleven-acre estate near Dublin to which Mary moved upon her marriage to Dr. Patrick Delany in 1743, was the subject of poetry and commentary by no members of Anglo-Irish society, including Jonathan Swift and Thomas Sheridan. In displaying the plants that she illustrated in her collages, this living collection at the Center summons up a virtual theatrum botanicum, the basis of all attempts at encyclopedic botanical collecting and cataloguing.

Horace Walpole's Strawberry Hill

Horace Walpole (1717 - 1797) was the youngest son of Robert Walpole, first earl of Orford and prime minister under both George I and George II. Horace's birthright placed him at the center of society and politics, and of literary, aesthetic, and intellectual circles. His brilliant letters and other writings have made him the best-known commentator on social, political, and cultural life in eighteenth-century England. In his own day, he was most famous for his personal collections, which were displayed at Strawberry Hill, his pioneering Gothic-revival house on the banks of the Thames at Twickenham, outside London, and through which he constructed narratives of English art and history.

This groundbreaking exhibition seeks to evoke the breadth and importance of Walpole's collections at Strawberry Hill by reassembling an astonishing variety of his objects, including rare books and manuscripts, antiquities, paintings, prints and drawings, furniture, ceramics, arms and armor, and curiosities. These will be drawn frominternational public and private collections as well as those of the Center and Yale's Lewis Walpole Library in Farmington, Connecticut.

Horace Walpole's Strawberry Hill has been organized by the Center, The Lewis Walpole Library, and the Victoria and Albert Museum. The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue with contributions by an array of distinguished international scholars. "

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