Thomas Rowlandson

Sir Joseph Banks about to Eat an Alligator (‘The Fish Supper’)


View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms

Ink and watercolour on paper
Support: 160 x 212 mm
Purchased as part of the Oppé Collection with assistance from the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund 1996

Display caption

This is Rowlandson's sketch for an etching, to accompany a poem attacking the President of the Royal Society, Sir Joseph Banks. Banks is shown on the right, gnawing on a serpent. He owned
a large collection of natural specimens, such as birds and snakes, which he displayed at his London home. However, his critics felt his obsession with natural history prevented him from dealing
with more important philosophical
issues. Here Banks feasts on his various specimens, while denouncing those who question his interests and his Presidency: 'Tell, then, each pretty President creator/ Confound him - that I'll eat an alligator'.

Gallery label, August 2004