John R Smith (Artist), Benjamin West (After)

Mr Banks

Mr Banks by John R Smith, Benjamin West

Artwork Detail

This print reproduces the famous 1771 oil painting by Sir Benjamin West of the naturalist and explorer Joseph Banks (Usher Gallery. Lincolnshire, UK), which was exhibited in the 1773 Royal Academy Annual Exhibition. Banks appears in front of a draped column, full-length and facing outwards, soon after his return from the South Seas with James Cook on the HMS Endeavour (1768-1771). His interests as a collector, botanist and ethnographer are emphasized through the many accessories around him. Banks wears a Māori kaitaka pātea (cloak) of muka (phormium tenax or New Zealand flax) over his suit, with a tāniko (geometric patterning) border fringed with dog tassels, which he holds out for the imagined viewer’s admiration. A subject of special interest to Banks, an illustration of the growing flax plant, from which such cloaks were made, is shown in a large open folio at his feet.

Banks appears surrounded by implements and artifacts which he collected on his 1768-1771 voyage of the South Pacific, and which he called his ‘artificial curiosities’. To his right is a fau, or plumed Tahitian helmet or headdress made for a high priest or noble (now in the British Museum), a taiaha or long fighting staff tied with dog-hair tassels and feathers, a canoe paddle, a Tahitian adze or mere mounted with a handle and an apa mallet or tapa/bark cloth beater, thought to be Tahitian and possibly the example given by Banks to Christ Church Oxford, which subsequently entered the collection of the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford, UK.

Mr Banks
John R Smith, Benjamin West
Production date
15 Apr 1773
mezzotint engraving, oil-based printing ink on laid white paper
598 x 397 mm
Credit line
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, bequest of John Lawford, 2023
Accession no
No known copyright restrictions
International Art
Display status
Not on display

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