The Great South Sea Caterpillar, transform'd into a Bath Butterfly. James GILLRAY.

The Great South Sea Caterpillar, transform'd into a Bath Butterfly.

London: J. Gillray, n.d., 1851.

Original etching, 350 x 250 mm.; fine; mounted. (Two caricatures verso).

From among the Weeds & Mud on the Banks of the South Sea

Rare satirical cartoon of Sir Joseph Banks, ridiculed for using the Royal Order of the Bath for self-promotion.

Rare satirical cartoon of Sir Joseph Banks, ridiculed for using the Royal Order of the Bath for self-promotion.
Portraits of Banks by the most famous artists of the day strengthened his position as the great statesman of science, recognised by the king with the award of the Order of the Bath for increasing Britain's scientific, imperial and commercial reputation. But as social conditions in Britain were harsh, every opportunity was taken by the leading cartoonists to attack the monarchy and the people seen to be celebrated as their appointed heroes. In this light, the award to Banks attracted easy criticism, only exacerbated by the change that the award represented to the nature of the Order: although inaugurated by George I, for most of the eighteenth century it had been awarded chiefly for political, military or diplomatic appointments. Only towards the end of the century did it come to be more broadly given, with Banks one of the earliest to be so endowed.
Gillray was certainly unimpressed, describing the great man with mock scientific rigour in the letterpress: 'Description of the New Bath Butterfly… taken from the Philosophical Transactions for 1795 (on publication of the first issue). This insect first crawl'd into notice from among the Weeds & Mud on the Banks of the South Sea and being afterwards placed in a warm situation, by the Royal Society, was changed by the heat of the Sun into its present form - it is notic'd and Valued Solely on account of the beautiful Red which encircles its Body, & the Shining Spot on its Breast; a Distinction which never fails to render Caterpillars valuable…'.
First issued in 1795 and re-issued in this form in 1851, this etching is from Henry Bohn's folio of Gillray's etchings.

Carter, Sir Joseph Banks 1743-1820, Caricature 5, p. 313; Nan Kivell & Spence, Portraits Famous and Infamous, p.17.

Price (AUD): $1,250.00  other currencies     Ref: #4011321