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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

Portrait of Dr Johann Reinhold Forster and his son George Forster

c. 1780
Jean Francois Rigaud

oil on canvas (frame: 168.0 cm x 142.5 cm, support: 129.0 cm x 103.5 cm)

Johann Reinhold Forster (1729–1798) and his son George Forster (1754–1794), polymaths, travelled as naturalists on James Cook’s second great voyage of exploration, on the Resolution between 1772 and 1775. Johann Forster was not a natural seaman, and his journal paints a sensitive picture of the hardships of the expedition as well as the peoples, animals and plants encountered on its course. The Admiralty barred Johann from publishing on the trip, but George wrote an outstanding scientific account of it that became a bestseller. Henceforth the Forsters were renowned as the European experts on the Pacific. George’s essay ‘Neuholland und die brittische Kolonie in Botany-Bay’ (1786) was an upbeat description of the geography, Indigenous inhabitants and resources of the nascent colony, for which he predicted a bright future. His long essay Cook, der Entdecker (Cook, the Discoverer), published in 1787 as the introduction to his German translation of the account of Cook’s third, fatal voyage, was the first major contemporary assessment of James Cook, and it remains the only substantial account of the great man by someone who knew him well.

Though only recently published in English, Cook, the Discoverer is now recognised as the starting point for the vast academic and popular enterprise that Cook scholarship has since become. In the early 1790s, before he predeceased his father, George Forster reviewed accounts of the new land by Watkin Tench, Arthur Phillip and John White for German readers. In this way he contributed greatly, as did Johann Forster, to German interest in the Antipodes.

The French/ Italian artist Jean Rigaud (1742–1810) trained in Italy, where he became a member of the Bologna Academy in 1766. Relocating to England in 1772, he exhibited at the Royal Academy, and was made an Academician in 1784. Though painted in London, the Forsters’ portrait is set in New Zealand. Johann is depicted with a sprig of Forstera sedifolia tucked in his hatband and a bellbird (Anthornis melanura) in his hand; specimens of a wattlebird, a saddleback and a honeyeater lie lifeless on the ground.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased with funds provided by the Liangis family, the Ian Potter Foundation and John Schaeffer AO 2009

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. Works of art from the collection are reproduced as per the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). The use of images of works from the collection may be restricted under the Act. Requests for a reproduction of a work of art can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

Artist and subject

Jean Francois Rigaud (age 38 in 1780)

Johann Reinhold Forster (age 51 in 1780)

Johann Georg Forster (age 26 in 1780)

Subject professions

Science and technology

Supported by

The Ian Potter Foundation (13 portraits supported)

Mrs Sortiria Liangis AM (12 portraits supported)

Mr John Schaeffer AO (2 portraits supported)

Related information

The Companion

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On one level The Companion talks about the most famous and frontline Australians, but on another it tells us about ourselves: who we read, who we watch, who we listen to, who we cheer for, who we aspire to be, and who we'll never forget. The Companion is available to buy online and in the Portrait Gallery Store.

Portrait of Dr Johann Reinhold Forster and his son George Forster
Portrait of Dr Johann Reinhold Forster and his son George Forster
Portrait of Dr Johann Reinhold Forster and his son George Forster
Portrait of Dr Johann Reinhold Forster and his son George Forster

To the end of the earth

Magazine article by Dr Sarah Engledow, 2009

The portrait of Dr. Johann Reinhold Forster and his son George Forster from 1780, is one of the oldest in the NPG's collection.

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

This website comprises and contains copyrighted materials and works. Copyright in all materials and/or works comprising or contained within this website remains with the National Portrait Gallery and other copyright owners as specified.

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. The use of images of works of art reproduced on this website and all other content may be restricted under the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). Requests for a reproduction of a work of art or other content can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

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