Delany, Mary (1700–88), artist, was born 14 May 1700 in Coulston, Wiltshire, England, elder daughter and second among four children of Col. Bernard Granville and his wife Mary, daughter of Sir Martin Westcomb, former consul at Cadiz. Her father, the younger brother of George Granville, Lord Lansdowne, had formerly been lieutenant governor of Hull and MP for Fowey in Cornwall. While she was still a young child her family moved to London. At the age of eight she was sent to live with the family of her aunt Ann, wife of John Stanley, secretary to the lord chamberlain. Ann Stanley had held a position as maid of honour to Queen Mary, and it was hoped Mary might achieve such a position. However, on the death of Queen Anne (1714) Bernard Granville was arrested because of his Jacobite sympathies. Released in November 1715, he moved with his family to Buckland manor, Gloucestershire. He sent Mary to live with his brother Lord Lansdowne (on whom he was dependent for an income) at Longleat, Wiltshire. There, her unhappy first marriage to Alexander Pendarves, MP for Launceston, Cornwall, was arranged in 1717. The couple settled first at Roscrow, Cornwall, before moving to London, where Pendarves died in 1724. She settled at Brook St., London, where her cultured circle included the composer George Frederick Handel (qv).
While visiting Ireland for the first time between 1731 and 1733, she met Jonathan Swift (qv) and through him Dr Patrick Delany (qv), a senior fellow at TCD. On her return to England she maintained a correspondence with both of them. She married Dr Delany in 1743 and returned to settle in Ireland the following year. He was well known as a preacher and published a number of theological and literary works. They lived at Delville in Glasnevin, Dublin, and at Hollymount (and later Mount Panther) in Co. Down, Delany having been appointed dean of Down in 1744. She made many visits to England as well as travelling extensively throughout Ireland. Her correspondence of these years, with its detailed observations of life in Ireland, has been recognised as an important source for the social history of the period.
By this time her artistic talents were well known to her contemporaries; she was particularly noted for her highly complex embroidery. Her court dress (private collection) embroidered by her in the 1760s is an outstanding example of the art. Her keen sense of design was also evident in her decorative shellwork, with which she decorated a number of interiors and grottoes including one at Killala, Co. Mayo (1732). Little of these works now survives. She also worked in watercolour. An album of her paintings of Irish scenes (NGI) is of particular interest as a topographical record. She received instruction in painting from Bernard Lens, Louis Goupy, and William Hogarth, of whose work she was a great admirer. His subjects, dealing with the morality of the day, must have appealed to Mrs Delany, whose stringent moral outlook is apparent in her writing. During her time in Ireland she maintained a close friendship with the artist Letitia Bushe (qv), whom she greatly admired. She also took an interest in the career of the miniaturist Rupert Barber (qv), who was given accommodation at Delville.
In 1768 Dr Delany died at Bath. Subsequently, Mrs Delany settled at 33 St James's Place, London. She spent her winters there and her summers with her great friend Margaret Cavendish, duchess of Portland, at Bulstrode, Bucks. Both women pursued a wide range of interests including botany. The well known botanical artist George Ehret, patronised by the duchess, was a frequent visitor. It was in the early 1770s against this background that she began to create the ‘paper mosaicks’ for which she is chiefly known. Till the failure of her sight in 1782 she made almost 1,000 collages of coloured paper, the cutting of which demonstrated remarkable technical skill, illustrating particular flower species in minute detail. The recording of the Linnaean classification of each plant reflected a concern for scientific accuracy in which she was encouraged by the leading botanist Sir Joseph Banks. Her work was praised by Horace Walpole in his Anecdotes of painting and also appealed greatly to George III and Queen Charlotte. As a mark of the esteem in which she was held by the royal couple she was given a house at Windsor in 1785 by the king, who also commissioned her portrait from John Opie. Portraits were also painted by Christopher Barber, Christian Zincke, and Benjamin West. She died at Windsor on 15 April 1788 and was buried in the church of St James, Piccadilly, London. A collection of her letters is in Newport Central Library, Gwent. The collection of her flower collages is in the British Museum.