The original painting for this engraving is by George Stubbs, and hangs in the Queen’s House, Greenwich, along with its companion piece, Dingo. The paintings were commissioned by Sir Joseph Banks (1743–1820) shortly after his return from an expedition to the Pacific with Captain James Cook (1768–71). They were exhibited in 1773 and are understood to be the earliest depictions of these iconic Australian animals in European art. Stubbs was predominantly a horse painter and had never seen a kangaroo or dingo in real life. He worked from notes, verbal descriptions, pencil sketches made on the expedition, and a stuffed pelt.
The painting was engraved as an illustration of John Hawkesworth’s Account of the Voyages undertaken…for making discoveries in the Southern Hemisphere (1773): the first official description of Cook’s first voyage. Stubbs’ Kangaroo was re-engraved and re-published several times, and became a standard for subsequent depictions of the animal throughout the 18th and 19th centuries.
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The first encounters of the Pacific by explorers such as Captain James Cook and Joseph Banks opened Europeans' eyes to a rich new world. Dr Philip Hatfield recalls this age of discovery as told through the topographical collections of the British Library.