"Portrait of Sr. Joseph Banks. President of the Royal Society" (early caption). BANKS, A. S. PETTY, Amelia Susannah.
"Portrait of Sr. Joseph Banks. President of the Royal Society" (early caption).

"Portrait of Sr. Joseph Banks. President of the Royal Society" (early caption)…
"Portrait of Sr. Joseph Banks. President of the Royal Society" (early caption).

England: circa 1795-1800.

Pastel on paper backed onto linen 62 x 50cm; in the original gilt frame and glass.

An unrecorded version of Banks's favourite portrait, by the daughter of a friend

A compelling lifetime portrait of Sir Joseph Banks at the height of his powers, recently rediscovered in England. The portrait is based on a pastel John Russell RA drew in 1788, showing Banks holding a lunar map. Banks loved the Russell drawing, consenting for it to be engraved by Joseph Collyer, and later singling it out as his favoured portrait and "a most decided Likeness" (quoted in Carter, Guide, p. 306). It shows him in his prime, during the era of New South Wales and the Bounty, the rapid expansion of Kew, and the voyages of Riou and Vancouver.

A compelling lifetime portrait of Sir Joseph Banks at the height of his powers, recently rediscovered in England. The portrait is based on a pastel John Russell RA drew in 1788, showing Banks holding a lunar map. Banks loved the Russell drawing, consenting for it to be engraved by Joseph Collyer, and later singling it out as his favoured portrait and "a most decided Likeness" (quoted in Carter, Guide, p. 306). It shows him in his prime, during the era of New South Wales and the Bounty, the rapid expansion of Kew, and the voyages of Riou and Vancouver.

In the Georgian era the practice of copying, updating and circulating portraits was widespread, and there can be no doubt that the artist of this well-executed work in crayons knew either Russell's original or, more likely, Collyer's version, but has removed the lunar map and updated Banks's outfit to include the sash of the Order of the Bath, presented to Banks in July 1795. Not only has this change been very neatly contrived, it provides the likely date of composition: it is certainly not much later, given that one of the more striking aspects of the picture is that it is in the original frame, largely untouched and unrestored, with fragments of an old newspaper from 1804 that was used as paper backing.

The identity of the artist is neatly recorded on an old caption on the back of the frame as "A.S. Petty", but no artist of that name is noted in any of the standard references of the era, which is frankly surprising given its quality. The answer turns out to be fascinating, because it must have been one Amelia Susannah Petty (abt.1767 – 2 April 1827), the only child of James Petty Esq., himself the wealthy natural son of the rather louche James Petty, Viscount Dunkeron (abt. 1713-1750) and one Elizabeth Gipps. Amelia was, that is, the great-great-granddaughter of the economist and scientist Sir William Petty. Her father, James Petty Esq. (abt. 1740-1822), was an extremely well-connected figure, who travelled widely on the Continent before settling at the grand estate of Broome Park, in Betchworth, Surrey. His connection to Banks is patent: Petty was elected to the Royal Society in 1771 and wrote his President at least one letter, from Vienna in 1784 (now NLA).

Not enough evidence has yet been unearthed to explain Amelia's remarkable skill, but the portrait is beautifully contrived, and likely to be, given the tangled social web of Georgian England, at least partially the product of direct observation. It is likely that there was a connection between the artist Amelia Petty and John Russell, given that the latter had a small holding in Dorking, only some five kilometres down the road from the Petty family estate at Broome Park.

Provenance: United Kingdom art dealer

ADB; An Act to enable Sir Maurice Crosbie knight… to discharge an encumbrance on certain collieries and coal mines in the county of Durham (1758); Beddie; Brabourne Papers (SLNSW); Carter, Sir Joseph Banks… A Guide to Biographical and Bibliographical Sources (1987); Carter, Sir Joseph Banks (1988); Collins, The Peerage of England (fourth edition); National Portrait Gallery (UK); ODNB; Papers of Sir Joseph Banks (NLA).

Price (AUD): $65,000.00  other currencies Ref: #4504922