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Sir Joseph Banks, Bt

32 of 1413 portraits by Sir Joshua Reynolds

Mid-Georgian Portraits Catalogue

Sir Joseph Banks, Bt

by Sir Joshua Reynolds
1771-1773
50 in. x 40 in. (1270 mm x 1015 mm) overall
NPG 5868


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This portraitback to top

When this portrait was painted Banks was enjoying considerable acclaim for his part in Cook’s Pacific voyage in the Endeavour in 1768-71. Boswell had met ‘the famous Mr Banks’ in March 1772, ‘a genteel young man, very black, and of an agreeable countenance, easy and communicative, without any affectation’, [1] and Reynolds was already familiar with his remarkable botanical and ethnographical collections. In 1772 Banks was invited to accompany Cook’s second Pacific voyage (perhaps the first reason for the inclusion of the Horace quotation, cras ingens iterabimus aequor), [2] but in May he withdrew, following his impractical demands for space on board. [3]
Banks’s name appears in Reynolds’s sitter book in November and December 1771, and in January, February and March 1772; between July and December 1772 he was travelling in the Hebrides, Iceland and the Orkneys, but he met Reynolds immediately on his return and the last sitting took place in March 1773. A payment of 70gns. was made to Reynolds by a Mr Hodgkinson [4] on 15 January 1774. The portrait has long been admired, for its intellectualism, power and energy, [5] but above all for its characterisation: 'no painter could have so expressed the hungry heart of a man smitten with the passion of exploring and inquiring, unless he had felt a deep and intelligent sympathy with his sitter'. [6]
A small bust-length oval version, in which the fur-collared coat is blue, was painted by Daniel Chodoweicki c.1780 (with a pendant of Dr Solander; both in the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin; 491A & B).

Footnotesback to top

1) Boswell for the Defence, 1960, p 56.
2) In a letter to his sister Sarah Sophia, Banks mistakenly wrote that ‘the motto of the print is taken from a part of Virgil’s Eneid, where Eneas encouraging his people says ...’ (Letters of Sir Joseph Banks, a selection, ed. N. Chambers, 2000, no.9, where dated February 1773 – but he must have been referring to Dickinson’s plate, which was published on 30 January 1774).
3) His explanatory letter to Lord Sandwich, first lord of the Admiralty, dated 30 May 1772, is printed in Letters of Sir Joseph Banks, a selection, ed. N. Chambers, 2000, no.7.
4) M. Cormack, 'The Ledgers of Sir Joshua Reynolds', Wal. Soc., XLII, 1970, p 145; Possibly his uncle, Robert Banks-Hodgkinson (1722-92).
5) O. Millar, Burl. Mag., XCI, 1949, p 83. See also D. Shawe-Taylor, The Georgians, 1990, p 94.
6) C. R. Leslie & T. Taylor, Life and Times of Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1865, I, p 429.

Referenceback to top

Graves & Cronin 1899-1901
A. Graves & W. V. Cronin, A History of the Works of Sir Joshua Reynolds, 4 vols., 1899-1901, I, p 47.

Mannings 2000
D. Mannings, Sir Joshua Reynolds, 2 vols., 2000, no. 106.

Simon 1997
J. Simon, The Art of the Picture Frame, NPG, 1997, pp 65, 161.

Waterhouse 1941
E. K. Waterhouse, Reynolds, 1941, p 63.

Physical descriptionback to top

Grey-blue eyes, dark hair, wearing a fur-lined deep red coat, white neckcloth and shirt, gold waistcoat and grey breeches, sitting in a green upholstered chair; on the table covered by a green cloth, the foremost paper inscribed: Cras Ingens Iterabimus aequor [‘tomorrow we will sail the high seas again’; Horace, Odes, I, VII, 32].

Provenanceback to top

By descent from Dorothea, Lady Banks, through her nephew, Sir Edward Knatchbull, 8th Bt, to Sir Wyndham Knatchbull, 12th Bt (d. 1917); his heir, the 4th Baron Brabourne, from whom bought 1918 by the 1st Viscount Cowdray; his son, Clive Pearson, Parham Park;1 by descent to Clive Gibson, from whom purchased by private treaty sale through Agnew 1986, with the aid of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the National Art Collections Fund and The Pilgrim Trust.

1 NPG 5868 was no.136 in the Parham Park picture list of c.1957; it hung in the green room (Parham Park Guide, 1974, p 21).

Exhibitionsback to top

RA 1773 (239); British Institution 1813 (125) lent Banks; Reynolds, Arts Council, 1949 (11); Bicentenary Exhibition, RA, 1968-69 (110); British Painting, Sydney, 1988 (96); Portrait in British Art, NPG, 1991 (37).

Reproductionsback to top

W. Dickinson 1774; S. W. Reynolds 1820.


This extended catalogue entry is from the out-of-print National Portrait Gallery collection catalogue: John Ingamells, National Portrait Gallery: Mid-Georgian Portraits 1760-1790, National Portrait Gallery, 2004, and is as published then. For the most up-to-date details on individual Collection works, we recommend reading the information provided in the Search the Collection results on this website in parallel with this text.

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