Friday 26 February 2010

London, Nostalgia & Mrs Delany

Saturday, before the rain and sleet and snow came down, was a lovely sunny day. Perfect for being a tourist in London.

Alma, James and I took the 19 bus (a very superior bus) from the King’s Rd to Regent St.

We ducked into Anthropologie to see its first European outpost. Full of very pretty, though not altogether necessary things – it’s just as well I’ve given up shopping for Lent. Lunch at Leon where I had the sweet potato falafel wrap (with aioli and chilli).

Oh Leon, I’ve missed you and your Leon-made Lemonade.

Then we walked through Fitzrovia and Bloomsbury, pausing to get takeaway coffee from CafĂ© Nero in the Paperchase on Tottenham Court Road (Nero’s, Paperchase, I miss you AS WELL.)

We had to fight our way through London Fashion Week attendees, wearing leather shorts and crazy shoes, but stopped to take in the wonder that is the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Look at the gold mosquito relief!

Finally we got to Lincoln’s Inns Fields and our ultimate destination: Sir John Soane’s Museum and the exhibition Mrs Delany and her Circle.

She was a formidable specimen of 18th century womanhood and following an unhappy first marriage, met and married the Reverend Mr Delany and came to live in Glasnevin, five minutes down the road from my own childhood home. Like many a well-bred lady before her, Mrs Delany dabbled in sketching and watercolours, but in her seventies started to create ‘paper mosaiks’. She cut out shapes from paper and tissue paper and carefully assembled beautifully-detailed, botanically accurate flowers.

Seen up close the flowers are amazing. They could pass for pressed flowers and it's hard to imagine how Mrs Delany wielded her tools to create such painstaking replicas. Set against a black ground they glow.

(Pancratium maritinum © Trustees of the British Museum)

The other thing that interested me was the contrast between her sketches, which were fairly amateur, and her paper collages and needlework. She seems to have had an eye for creating detail by layering shapes and colour, rather than line and shadow – reminded me of Matisse, in a way.

Mrs Delany was a grand old dame – and put me in mind of another: my grandmother, who introduced Mrs Delany to me. I wish she could have seen the flowers for herself.


  1. It makes me sad that you were in my neck of the woods and yet did not see fit to include a picture of that wonder of sixties vomit-architecture, the UCL Institute of Archaeology (from wherein I write this). For shame.