Mary Delany (née Granville)

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Mary Delany (née Granville)

by John Opie
oil on canvas, feigned oval, 1782
29 1/2 in. x 24 1/2 in. (749 mm x 622 mm)
Bequeathed by Baroness Llanover, 1896
Primary Collection
NPG 1030

On display at Bath Preservation Trust, Bath


Horace Walpole conceived this elaborate troph…

Sitterback to top

  • Mary Delany (née Granville) (1700-1788), Paper collage artist; memoir and letter writer. Sitter in 5 portraits, Artist or producer associated with 3 portraits.

Artistback to top

  • John Opie (1761-1807), Portrait and history painter. Artist or producer associated with 151 portraits, Sitter in 13 portraits.

Related worksback to top

  • NPG 7145: 'Work in Progress' (based on same portrait)

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Bennett, Sue, Five Centuries of Women and Gardens, 2000 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 5 October 2000 to 21 January 2001), p. 65
  • Ingamells, John, National Portrait Gallery: Mid-Georgian Portraits 1760-1790, 2004, p. 138
  • Lydia Miller; Samira Ahmed, Inspirational Women: Rediscovering stories in Art, Science and Social Reform, 2022, p. 20
  • Pointon, Marcia, Hanging the head : portraiture and social formation in eighteenth-¿century England, 1993, p. 36 number 54
  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 171
  • Simon, Jacob, The Art of the Picture Frame: Artists, Patrons and the Framing of Portraits in Britain, 1997 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 8 November 1996 - 9 February 1997), p. 114, 165 Read entry

    Carved and gilt pine, mitred, repaired and party regilded by Francis Draper in 1896 including a new carved bow; restored by Arnold Wiggins & Sons Ltd, 1961, 1963, including renewal of the inscription on the palette. Much of the top trophy is a restoration based on Walpole's original design. 3 1⁄ 4 inches wide.

    Horace Walpole designed this elaborate trophy frame as a memorial to his friend, Mrs Delany, within a few weeks of her death on 15 April 1788. The ornaments of musical instruments, flowers, easel, palette and brushes are emblematic of her accomplishments. The frame is in the French Louis XVI style, with straight sides, flat section and added ornament. It was designed by Walpole for his friend, Mary Wortley Montagu, Countess of Bute, who had commissioned the portrait in 1782.

    Quite how the unusual decision was made to reframe the picture so soon after it was painted is not known. A younger member of Walpole's circle of friends, Mary Hamilton, later Mrs Dickenson, appears to have played a part; she had first met Walpole at Mrs Delany's in 1784 and was to become something of a favourite of his. She and her husband dined with him at Strawberry Hill on 13 May 1788, four weeks after Mrs Delany's death, and it was on this occasion that Walpole gave her the memorial inscription he had drafted for the palette on the frame of the portrait.1 Two days later Walpole wrote to her that he had 'had a note from Lady B'. 2 It would be nice to think that this was Lady Bute and that perhaps the scheme for the frame had been conceived on the occasion of the dinner at Strawberry Hill. The sheet with the inscription is annotated at the top by Mrs Dickenson, 'written & given to me by ye Honble Hor: Walpole at Strawberry Hill May 13th 1788' and at the bottom, possibly by another hand, 'The Frame was design'd & the Inscription was written out by the Honble Horace Walpole May 1788'.

    The frame was first published by Lady Llanover, Mrs Delany's great-great-niece, in 1862.3 In her book she reproduces a drawing of the frame which has the appearance of a commissioned illustration. It can hardly be by Walpole as is sometimes claimed. His original design is not known; it was probably in the nature of a sketch which would have been worked up by the framemaker, name unknown, to realise this magnificent memorial to Mrs Delany.

    1 W. S. Lewis (ed.), The Tale Edition of Horace Walpok's Correspondence., vol.XII, 1944, p 229 for Walpole's visitor book recording the visit of the Dickensons.

    2 Lewis, op. cit., vol.XXXI, 1961, p 263, where it is suggested that 'Lady B.' is Lady Browne.

    3 Lady Llanover (ed.), The Autobiography and Correspondence of Mary Granville, Mrs. Delany, 2nd series, vol.III, 1862, pp 497-8.

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Events of 1782back to top

Current affairs

Frederick North, 2nd Earl of Guilford resigns as Prime Minister over recent setbacks in America and is succeeded by Charles Watson-Wentworth, 2nd Marquess of Rockingham who takes office for the second time. Rockingham dies on 1 July and is succeeded by William Petty, 2nd Earl of Shelburne.
Repeal of Poynings Law and Declaratory Act of 1720 gives virtual legislative autonomy to Ireland.

Art and science

After a poor reception in the mid 1770s, actress Sarah Siddons makes a triumphant return to the Drury Lane Theatre, London in the title role of Isabella, or, The Fatal Marriage. She will become the century's best known tragic actress.
Clergyman and artist William Gilpin publishes Observations on the River Wye; a central text in the formulation of the concept of the picturesque.


American War of Independence: Siege of Gibraltar reaches a climax in the Grand Assault but French and Spanish forces are unsuccessful. Britain loses Minorca prompting the Prime Minister, Lord Rockingham, to open peace talks with the Americans. Thomas Grenville is sent to Paris to negotiate with Benjamin Franklin.
Paper manufacturer Joseph Montgolfier sends a hot-air balloon 1000 meters into the air, in front of a crowd in the Ardèche in France.

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