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Omai (c.1753-c.1776/7), Joseph Banks (1743-1820) and Dr Daniel Solander (1736-1782)
PARRY, William (1742 - 1791)
Media: oil on canvas
Size: 150 cm
Acquired: 2003; Purchase; jointly with the National Portrait Gallery and the Captain Cook Memorial Museum, with assistance from the Art Fund
Accession Number: NMW A 26031
Collection: The Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn Collection
This conversation piece portrays Joseph Banks, future President of the Royal Society, with Dr Daniel Solander, the Swedish botanist and Keeper of Natural History at the British Museum, and the Tahitian Omai. Banks and Solander were leading naturalists of the day who accompanied Captain Cook on his first epic voyage to the South Pacific in 1768. Omai, a 'native' of 'Otaheite' had come to England in 1773 on Captain Tobias Furneaux's ship, The Adventure, after making friends with the crew.
Having studied Tahitian languages and culture on their voyage to the Pacific, Banks and Solander were called on to chaperone Omai. The Tahitian quickly became a social celebrity, dining at the Royal Society and being presented to George III. While Solander is portrayed seated at a desk, Banks is shown centrally, standing, gesturing towards Omai, who wears flowing white robes. Parry captures the collaborative nature of intellectual and scientific enquiry of the period. He was a pupil of Sir Joshua Reynolds, whose influence is discernible here. It may be through his master that Parry gained the opportunity to paint Omai, as Reynolds also portrayed the Tahitian. Parry painted this small-scale group portrait shortly after his return from a period in Italy in 1775. The painting sensitively places the native Omai on equal terms with his fellow Europeans.