[A proof version of the engraved portrait of Joseph Banks, later to be captioned "Mr. Banks"]. BANKS, Sir Benjamin WEST, John Raphael SMITH.

[A proof version of the portrait of Joseph Banks, later captioned "Mr. Banks"].
[A proof version of the engraved portrait of Joseph Banks, later to be captioned "Mr. Banks"].

[London: S. Hooper & J.R. Smith, before 15 April 1773].

Mezzotint engraving, 555 x 376 mm; mounted.

Proof engraving: Joseph Banks, returned on Cook's Endeavour

Exceptionally rare and unrecorded artist's proof version of Benjamin West's famous portrait of Joseph Banks, differing significantly in detail from the mezzotint as subsequently published. West painted Banks in December 1771, four months after his triumphant return to England from Cook's Endeavour voyage. At twenty-nine years of age, it was the first "authentic" portrait of Banks, and remains one of the best of all subsequent likenesses. Appropriately, West showed him in an heroic pose wearing a Maori flax cloak and surrounded by all manner of Polynesian artefacts collected during the voyage including clubs, a paddle and a feather-handled basket.

Exceptionally rare and unrecorded artist's proof version of Benjamin West's famous portrait of Joseph Banks, differing significantly in detail from the mezzotint as subsequently published. West painted Banks in December 1771, four months after his triumphant return to England from Cook's Endeavour voyage. At twenty-nine years of age, it was the first "authentic" portrait of Banks, and remains one of the best of all subsequent likenesses. Appropriately, West showed him in an heroic pose wearing a Maori flax cloak and surrounded by all manner of Polynesian artefacts collected during the voyage including clubs, a paddle and a feather-handled basket.

In this early version, we can see that the engraver Smith experimented with a number of elements before finalising the plate for printing. For example the basket on the left was later changed to show, in slightly clumsy manner, an unfurled fau or Tahitian headdress, a rare object, one example of which Banks is known to have owned. Highlights were also added to Banks's head and shoulder, and the open book on the right was decorated. As an artist's proof, this print was made from a virtually unused plate, which explains the noticeably high quality of the impression.

There were at least three subsequent printings from the plate: the print was completed, with the changes outlined above, and issued by Hooper and Smith in mid-April 1773 with the caption "Mr. Banks". A later version published by Moltene, Colnaghi & Co. in 1788 was retitled "Sir Joseph Banks Bt." (Banks had been knighted in 1781), while another version was recaptioned to read "Sir Joseph Banks Bt. President", presumably referring to Banks's presidency of the Royal Society and perhaps indicating an issue made specifically for or on behalf of the Society. Scarce in any state, this proof version of the famous mezzotint is an exceptional rarity.

The young engraver John Raphael Smith had worked from West's original portrait to make this beautiful mezzotint, an image which Banks himself regarded as one of only three satisfactory likenesses of him to be printed. He mused that '…I doubt whether any adequate Reward was Obtained by the artist for Either of the Large [portraits], a man like me who has never meddled in Politics & who cannot of Course possess a Squadron of Enthusiastic Friends is not likely to Sell a dear Print, a Cheap one will answer better among the man of Science…".

The original West oil now hangs in the Usher Gallery in Lincolnshire, near Banks's family estates.

Provenance: Private collection (USA).

Predating Beddie 4227, 4229 and 4230; Nan Kivell and Spence, p. 16 (illustrated p. 78) as published later in 1773.

Condition Report: Some expert repairs to paper surface.

Price (AUD): $32,500.00

US$24,114.69   Other currencies

Ref: #4505154

Condition Report