Banks Medallion collection
The Banks Medallion Collection comprises a Wedgwood & Bentley cameo portrait medallion featuring a profile bust of Joseph Banks modelled in high relief in white jasper on a solid blue jasper body c.1775-80. The portrait of Banks reproduced on the medallion was originally modelled by John Flaxman R.A. (1755-1826), a leading neo-classical sculptor employed by Wedgwood from 1775. Flaxman modelled his portraits in a hard grey-white wax directly onto a glass background, with each portrait in wax substantially larger than the resulting jasper copy to allow for shrinkage during moulding and firing. Due to the limitations of the casting process, the artist would 'undercut', or carve back into the jasper copies to sharpen their details and give a greater impression of depth to the portrait before firing. The condition of the collection is good, with only a few small chips missing from the edge of the medallion. The white jasper portrait is in excellent condition.
Wedgwood & Bentley medallions represent the culmination of years of concerted experimentation by Wedgwood into the development of new clay bodies, colouring techniques and industrial production methods that would ultimately result in the transformation and industrialisation of the British pottery industry. They are also superb examples of the neo-classical fashion then raging in British Society and reflect both the humanitarian ideals of the Enlightenment and its related cult of celebrity. Joseph Banks, who enjoyed great celebrity as a result of his role on HMB Endeavour, was an obvious choice for inclusion in the special category of portrait medallions known as 'Heads of the Illustrious Moderns'. A leading figure in the scientific and philosophical establishments of the day, advisor to the King, patron of men of ability such as Matthew Flinders, Robert Brown and Allan Cunningham, Banks' extensive connections and correspondence with the intellectuals and powerbrokers of his age placed him at the centre of a vast network of influence that circled the globe.
Copyright National Museum of Australia
Physical access to the collection by appointment only