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Sir Joseph Banks
, c. 1788

by Benjamin West and John Raphael Smith (engraver)

mezzotint (frame: 90.0 cm x 65.0 cm, plate-mark: 59.5 cm x 37.5 cm)

Joseph Banks (1743–1820) was born into a wealthy English family. His largely self-taught expertise in botany earned him fellowship into the Royal Society at the age of 23. At 25, he convinced the Society to send him as a naturalist with Cook’s first Pacific voyage. Banks funded the additions of two other naturalists, two artists, a secretary, and two black servants. During the voyage he collected hundreds of specimens of flora and fauna, relying frequently on Indigenous interlocutors to understand what he was observing. Upon the Endeavour’s return, it was Banks more than Cook who symbolised Pacific voyaging to a newly fascinated British public. Banks quarrelled with the Admiralty over his accommodations for the second voyage, pulling out of it at the last minute. Possibly regretful of his tempestuous stand, Banks hungered for every detail of the voyage when it returned in 1774 and was delighted to take over responsibility for Mai from the Admiralty.

The Royal Academy’s 1773 exhibition featured portraits of the highly-topical Banks by Joshua Reynolds and the American-born Benjamin West. West’s portrayal included the young scientist draped in a cloak of New Zealand flax with Oceanic souvenirs and Sydney Parkinson’s drawings all about him.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased 2010
Accession number: 2010.15