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

London: H. Humphrey, 4 July 1795.

Hand coloured engraving, 350 x 250 mm.; fine; mounted and framed.

Making fun of Sir Joseph Banks, who metamorphoses into a splendid butterfly

The rare 1795 first issue of this splendid satirical cartoon of Sir Joseph Banks, ridiculed for using the Royal Order of the Bath for self-promotion. This hand coloured engraving is by James Gillray (1756-1815) the leading English caricaturist of his time, an artist of outstanding inventiveness who continues to influence satirists today. Gillray's cruel metaphor has Banks crawling from the mud of the South Seas -- referring to his participation in Cook's first voyage -- to blossom in the Royal Society as a man of fame and distinction, with consequent vanity.

The rare 1795 first issue of this splendid satirical cartoon of Sir Joseph Banks, ridiculed for using the Royal Order of the Bath for self-promotion. This hand coloured engraving is by James Gillray (1756-1815) the leading English caricaturist of his time, an artist of outstanding inventiveness who continues to influence satirists today. Gillray's cruel metaphor has Banks crawling from the mud of the South Seas -- referring to his participation in Cook's first voyage -- to blossom in the Royal Society as a man of fame and distinction, with consequent vanity.

In the letterpress under his portrait of the great man as a metamorphosing butterfly Gillray explains his work: '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…'.

Portraits of Banks by the most famous artists of the day strengthened his position as the great statesman of science, recognised by the King 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.

This portrait is generally known by a more common version, the reprint published in the 1830s. Offered here is the original issue, one of the rarest of the eighteenth-century images of Joseph Banks "the father of Australia".

BM, 8718; King, 'The Other Side of the Coin', no. 2; Nan Kivell & Spence, 'Portraits of the Famous and Infamous', p. 17.

Price (AUD): $21,000.00  other currencies     Ref: #4504783

Condition Report