Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Flora Delanica #9: Poppy and Botanizing

Flora Delanica #9 Corn Poppy (Papaver rheus) by Becky Brown

The corn poppy recalls some giants of early botanical sciences and their friendship with Mary Granville Delany.

Daniel Carlsson Solander (1733 – 1782)
 Portrait from a ceramic Jasperware medallion

Daniel Solander was a Swedish naturalist who worked with Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), the great scientist who formalized the nomenclature of organisms. Linnaeus gave us the two-part name (Papaver rheus) still used to describe biology. Linnaeus advised his student and editor to study in London where Solander found work at the British Museum.

Corn Poppy by Nancy Phillips in wool

In 1768 Solander and Joseph Banks accompanied Captain James Cook as botanists on a three-year voyage to the Southern hemisphere on the ship HMS Endeavour. 

Joseph Banks (1743-1820) at 30.
National Portrait Gallery
Joshua Reynolds painted this portrait after Banks's return in 1771.

Banks and Solander reportedly brought back 30,000 specimens from the Americas, Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific. On their own later excursions they added to British collections with plants gathered in Iceland and the northern latitudes. When in England Banks and Solander continued their work at the British Museum but they also worked and socialized at the private museum at Bulstrode Park. Margaret Duchess of Portland hired Solander to use the Linnean system to catalog her own collection. 

HMS Endeavour setting off on its voyage of discovery

Soon after the Endeavour's return Margaret Duchess of Portland and Mary Delany went to visit Banks "to see some of the fruits of his travels....[We] were quite delighted with paintings of the Otaheite [Tahitian] plants, quite different from anything the Duchess ever saw, so they must be very new to me!"

Corn Poppy by Ilyse Moore,
wool on linen

Margaret also hired German Georg Dionysus Ehret (1708-1770) as her resident botanical illustrator and her childrens' teacher.

Ehret's illustration of common poppies.
Ehret has a reputation as one of the" finest plant illustrators of all time."
He illustrated one of Linnaeus's publications.

Mary Delany herself owned Ehret illustrations of "rare plants at Bulstrode...impossible to describe the perfection of the drawing, colouring, and individual texture given to the leaves and flowers of each plants."
Aristocrat Mary Parker's 1756 portfolios with watercolors she
painted under Ehret's instruction.
"In the year 1749 I began to give instruction to the highest nobility of England, and in my whole life I have not been so prosperous as during the last years." Georg Ehret.

"Surely an application to natural beauties must enlarge the mind? This house with all belonging to it is a noble school for contemplations." Mary Delany on Bulstrode.

Corn Poppy by Barbara Brackman

Mary and Margaret were not dilettantes although they were amateurs in the sense of the French word's origin "a lover of....." They were lovers of science but they were cautious in making their enthusiasms and skills known.

The common wisdom at the time was that women were incapable of abstract thought such as taxonomies. Philosopher Jean Jacque Rousseau (another amateur botanist) who joined them at Bulstrode believed females should focus on practical reason (growing plants?). Did he listen as Mary and Margaret discussed their ideas on expanding Linnaeus's systems? Did he disapprove of the frankly sexual in Linnaeus's discussion of plant anatomies. 

Detail of Mary's passionflower

Many believed frank images of stamens and pistils too much for proper females.

After Mary began snipping and gluing colored papers as botanical illustrations Joseph Banks praised her work as "the only imitations of nature that he had ever seen from which he could venture to describe botanically any plant without the least fear of committing an error." 
An evocative portrait of Mary scanned in an old edition of her letters.

Interpreting Mary Delany as a late bloomer who began her "visionary" paper Flora Delanica out of the blue one morning in 1772.....

["Mary, at the age of 72 (yes, 72!)"
Someone's comment---obviously not someone in their 70s.]

...is to completely ignore the heady context in which she lived. Like Rousseau Mary was an amateur who loved the work. Like Banks she benefited from the conversations around the tea and sherry tables, walks in Margaret's arboretum and visits to the Queen's gardens at Kew to see new imports from around the world. She was a member of a studious and privileged group that included some of Europe's leading botanists and naturalists. If Mary had been a man and 45 instead of 72 she'd be getting a different kind of credit---the kind of respect denied to little old ladies across the generations.

After Margaret's death in 1785 her foolish heirs dismantled her Museum and sold the art, botany, animals, etc. in a 38 day sale in 1786, an event that must have dismayed her friend Mary.

The catalog disbursing Margaret's life work.

Poppy (Papaver rheus)

The Block
#9 Poppy

Photoshopped onto a light background

Applique on the diagonal to a square cut 10-1/2" or on the vertical center of a rectangle cut 9-1/2" x 12-1/2".

One Way to Print the Pattern:

Create a word file or a new empty JPG file that is 8-1/2" x 11".
Click on the image above.
Right click on it and save it to your file.
Print that file out 8-1/2" x 11". Note the inch square block for reference.
Adjust the printed page size if necessary.

I have a few poppies that come out in May when they feel like it---
they are biennials--- primadonnas in the garden.
Didn't feel like it this May.

A Little More Mary Delany

Spirae Solander, Mary Delany
British Museum
A red meadow sweet named for Daniel Solander in Linnean taxonomy

When Margaret died in 1785 John Lightfoot, a member of the Hive, described the grief at Bulstrode:
"All her Domesticks are sobbing privately in Corners; but poor Mrs. Delany's Affliction is beyond Expression..."
Further Reading

At Bulstrode Park and back in London Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander worked on their Florilegium  cataloging hundreds of specimens but Solander died suddenly in 1770 and Banks never finished the work. It was published in 1980 as Banks's Florilegium.

Richard Holmes’s The Age of Wonder: The Romantic Generation and the Discovery of the Beauty and Terror of Science (2008). Joseph Banks is Chapter 1.

Andrea Wulf’s The Brother Gardeners (2008) That's not a Mary Delany Magnolia Grandiflora on the cover.

Banksia from the Florilegiumby artist Sydney Parkinson
 who sailed on the Endeavour and died on the voyage.

An odd name for an odd Australian plant but now you know the name's source.

Banksia's flower

1 comment:

  1. I heartily recommend Brother Gardeners - wonderful story and very readable. Kathryn