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Joseph Banks
, 1774

by Sir Joshua Reynolds and William Dickinson (engraver)

mezzotint on paper (sheet: 52.5 cm x 38.6 cm, plate-mark: 45.2 cm x 35.5 cm)

Joshua Reynolds’s painting of Joseph Banks was first exhibited alongside Benjamin West’s portrait of Banks at the 1773 Royal Academy annual exhibition. Fifteen years West’s senior and the leading art theorist of the age, Reynolds and his works were bound to take precedence. Reynolds met Banks upon his return from the Endeavour voyage. They became friends who dined together with others of London’s intellectual world such as Samuel Johnson and Edmund Burke.

Banks in Reynolds’s portrait is more assured than he is in West’s. Half scientist, half adventurer, the subject appears at a scholar’s desk, just about to rise up out of his chair. With background sea and globe in evidence, the action due to occur is clearly maritime in nature. The writing below Banks’s left hand confirms it: cras ingens iterabimus aequor; ‘tomorrow tempt again the boundless sea.’ Banks never did return to the Pacific, but he acted as Mai’s chief patron when the Ra‘iatean arrived in 1774, and, as President of the Royal Society, became the most vocal advocate for the British colonization of Australia.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased 2008
Accession number: 2008.104