Mary Delany, Crinum Zeylanicum: Asphodil Lilly, a paper collage

England, AD 1778

Mary Delany began making paper collages, or ‘mosaicks' as she called them, at the age of 72. The idea came to her while staying with her companion, Margaret Bentinck, duchess of Portland, at Bulstrode in Buckinghamshire. She had noticed the similarity of colour between a geranium and a piece of red paper that was on her bedside table. Taking up her scissors she imitated the petals. Upon entering the room, the Duchess mistook them for real: 'Her approbation was such a sanction to my undertaking... and gave me courage to go on with confidence'. Delany later wrote that her work was intended as an imitation of a hortus siccus or collection of dried flowers.

Commonly called the Milk-and-wine Lilly, the Asphodil Lilly originated in tropical Asia and east Africa and was introduced to this country in around 1770. An inscription on the back of the collage indicates that the flower was presented to Delany by Lord Rockingham (1730-82), a Whig politician and twice Prime Minister.

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More information


R. Hayden, Mrs Delany and her flower coll (London, The British Museum Press, 1992)

C.E. Vulliamy, Aspasia: the life and letters (London, G. Bles, 1935)


Height: 33.800 cm
Width: 24.100 cm

Museum number

PD 1897-5-5-248


Bequeathed by Lady Llanover


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