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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.

The great South Sea caterpillar transformed into a Bath Butterfly (Sir Joseph Banks), 1795 (printed 1851)

James Gillray

etching, hand-coloured on paper (sheet: 47.7 cm x 29.7 cm, image: 34.5 cm x 24.5 cm)

More images of this artwork

King George III was a great admirer of Joseph Banks and had supported his appointment as President of the Royal Society in 1778. In 1795, Banks was created Knight Grand Cross in what was then formally known as the Most Honourable Military Order of the Bath. He was the first civilian accorded this honour, which was bestowed in recognition of his services to natural science and exploration. In this cartoon, James Gillray implies the continuing royal favouritism of Banks, mocking it as undeserved: Banks flaunts his Order (of which he was said to be inordinately proud) while the sun, symbolising the king, effects his metamorphosis from a caterpillar into a butterfly. Gillray’s characterisation of Banks as a ‘crawler’ is typically cruel: Banks’s gentlemanly geniality, as well as his extraordinary experience of the world, conduced to his elevated social standing; while his achievements as a naturalist were widely acknowledged by leaders in the field of science. In 1835, publisher Henry George Bohn acquired Gillray’s original plates from the family of Hannah Humphrey, the publisher for whom Gillray worked exclusively from 1791, and with whom he lived for 20 years. Bohn later used the plates to produce two luxurious volumes from which this and many other impressions were later removed and, at times, passed off as originals.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Gift of Douglas Stewart Fine Books 2013

Accession number: 2013.95

Currently not on display

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Artist and subject

James Gillray (age 39 in 1795)

Sir Joseph Banks KCB (age 52 in 1795)

Related information

The Companion

Permanent collection catalogue

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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.

Sir Joseph Banks, c. 1788 Benjamin West, John Raphael Smith
Sir Joseph Banks, c. 1788 Benjamin West, John Raphael Smith
Sir Joseph Banks, c. 1788 Benjamin West, John Raphael Smith
Sir Joseph Banks, c. 1788 Benjamin West, John Raphael Smith

In a good paddock

Magazine article by Dr Sarah Engledow, 2011

Celebrating a new painted portrait of Joseph Banks, Sarah Engledow spins a yarn of the naturalist, the first kangaroo in France and Don, a Spanish ram.

Portrait of Dr Johann Reinhold Forster and his son George Forster, c. 1780 Jean Francois Rigaud
Portrait of Dr Johann Reinhold Forster and his son George Forster, c. 1780 Jean Francois Rigaud
Portrait of Dr Johann Reinhold Forster and his son George Forster, c. 1780 Jean Francois Rigaud
Portrait of Dr Johann Reinhold Forster and his son George Forster, c. 1780 Jean Francois Rigaud

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.

Portrait of Captain James Cook RN, 1782 John Webber
Portrait of Captain James Cook RN, 1782 John Webber
Portrait of Captain James Cook RN, 1782 John Webber
Portrait of Captain James Cook RN, 1782 John Webber

Thrown together

Magazine article by Dr Sarah Engledow, 2009

Shipmates for years, James Cook and Joseph Banks each kept a journal but neither man shed light on their relationship.

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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.