The Great South Sea Caterpillar transform'd into a Bath butterfly. SIR JOSEPH BANKS, James GILLRAY.
The Great South Sea Caterpillar transform'd into a Bath butterfly.

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

London: Henry Bohn, no date, but 1851.

Handcoloured engraving, 350 x 250 mm; mounted.

Sir Joseph Banks emerges from his chrysalis

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.

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 engraved text: 'Description of the New Bath Butterfly… taken from the Philosophical Transactions for 1795. 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…'.

This print was first printed and sold in 1795. Gillray died in 1815 and his estate was subject to a large sale some twenty years later. Although Nan Kivell (p.17) notes an 1830 impression of The Great South Sea Caterpillar, the majority of the original copper plates came into the possession of London publisher Henry Bohn who made fresh impressions for a collected edition of Gillray's work sold in 1851. This print is a Bohn impression (indicated by the number engraved in the top right-hand corner) and presumably dates from the 1851 collected edition.

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

Price (AUD): $3,250.00  other currencies Ref: #4108622

Condition Report