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Sir Joseph Banks, Bt

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Sir Joseph Banks, Bt

by Sir Joshua Reynolds
oil on canvas, 1771-1773
50 in. x 40 in. (1270 mm x 1015 mm) overall
Purchased with help from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Art Fund and the Pilgrim Trust, 1986
Primary Collection
NPG 5868

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

  • Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792), Painter and first President of the Royal Academy. Artist or producer associated with 1415 portraits, Sitter associated with 39 portraits.

This portraitback to top

Banks sat to Reynolds in 1772 and again, after his voyage to Iceland, in 1773, and the freestanding globe in this portrait refers to his travels in search of botanical studies. The inscription on the letter reads Cras Ingens iterabimus aequor, which may be translated as 'tomorrow we'll sail the vast deep again'.

Related worksback to top

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Audio Guide
  • Smartify image discovery app
  • Hackmann, W.D., Apples and Atoms: Portraits of Scientists from Newton to Rutherford, 1986, p. 12
  • Ingamells, John, National Portrait Gallery: Mid-Georgian Portraits 1760-1790, 2004, p. 26
  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 33
  • Shawe-Taylor, Desmond, The Georgians : eighteenth-¿century portraiture & society, 1990, p. 94 number 61
  • Simon, Jacob, The Art of the Picture Frame: Artists, Patrons and the Framing of Portraits in Britain, 1997 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 8 November 1996 - 9 February 1997), p. 65, 161 Read entry

    Carved and gilt pine, mitred, pinned and keyed, the ground punched; 4 1⁄ 4 inches wide. The cleaning and conservation of the frame kindly undertaken by Arnold Wiggins & Sons Ltd, 1996.

    Reynolds's portrait of the explorer and botanist, Joseph Banks, was shown at the same Royal Academy exhibition as his double portrait of David Garrick and his wife, probably in a Maratta frame like the Garrick. The rococo frame now on the portrait was presumably chosen by a descendant of Sir Edward Knatchbull, 8th Bart, Banks's relative by marriage, in whose family the portrait remained until acquired by the Gallery in 1986. The frame probably dates to the 1760s but the coat of arms on the cartouche remains unidentified.1

    1 The arms have been altered. They are not those of Sir Edward Knatchbull, 8th Bart, nor of his grandson, Lord Brabourne. The portrait can be seen in its present frame at Parham Park, Sussex, in Country Life, vol.CIX, 1951, p 1887 (reproduced).

  • Uglow, Jenny, Character Sketches: Dr Johnson, His Club and Other Friends, 1998, p. 62
  • Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 110 Read entry

    This portrait of Joseph Banks by Joshua Reynolds (1723–92) was painted on Banks’s return to England, to a rapturous welcome, having participated in Captain James Cook’s successful Pacific voyage on the Endeavour (1768–71). The globe on the table alludes to his travels while the inscription on the letter, a quotation from Horace, translates as ‘tomorrow we will set out again upon the vast sea’.

    Banks had developed his scientific expertise on an earlier expedition to Labrador and Newfoundland in 1766. The Endeavour voyage to the comparatively unknown territories of Tahiti, New Zealand and Australia gave him an unparalleled opportunity to study local plants, wildlife and people. He made a unique natural history collection, learned Tahitian and participated in local traditions, including being tattooed. On his return to England in 1771 he was introduced to George III, who became a close friend and supporter. Cook’s second expedition of 1772–5 could not accommodate Banks’s entourage; instead Banks organised a voyage to explore the natural history of Iceland. In Britain he held positions of great scientific influence and advised the government on the establishment of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew and the first British colonies in Australia. He was elected president of the Royal Society in 1778.

Events of 1771back to top

Current affairs

Artist Benjamin West exhibits his celebrated modern history painting The Death of Wolfe at the Royal Academy, commemorating the death of General James Wolfe at the 1759 Battle of Quebec during the Seven Years' War. The painting creates a sensation and George III commissions a copy.
Reporting of parliamentary debates is permitted.

Art and science

Richard Arkwright begins to develop cotton mills at Cromford in the Derwent Valley, Derbyshire; one of the earliest factory complexes.
Botanist James Robertson makes the first recorded ascent of Ben Nevis.
Encyclopedia Britannica is completed with 2,931 pages.
First recorded cricket match is played in Horsham, West Sussex.


First voyage of James Cook ends. HMS Endeavour anchors in the port of Deal, Kent following its three-year global circumnavigation.
Spain cedes the Falkland Islands to Britain.

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Prof Stephen Martin

23 January 2020, 16:06

The globe shows Madagascar which was Banks' favourite place for collection on Cook's first voyage, with its isolated unique species and diversity. The joys of Madagascar can also be seen as a symbol of survival gratitude after the loss of 30 of the expedition's men shortly beforehand from mosquito-born fevers in Batavia. Men close to Banks died of typhus on the ship, including the botanical artist Sydney Parkinson. That did not stop Banks' declaration of wanting to explore again.

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