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Unlike the previous three paintings, the fourth in the sequence 'The Progress of Human Knowledge and Culture' depicts a modern scene, albeit in a characteristically classical way, by personifying a river as a benevolent deity. A majestic Father Thames seated on a throne, steering himself with one hand and holding a compass in the other. Above him is the Roman deity Mercury, a god of trade analogous with the Greek Hermes, a patron saint of travellers and communicators. On the right of the picture, carrying Father Thames out to sea, surrounded by sea-nymphs, are the navigators (right to left), Drake, Raleigh, Cabot and Captain Cook, the latter shown as Triton, who is traditionally depicted as a merman. To the left of Father Thames, figures representing the native peoples of Asia, Africa, Europe and America are united in offering produce to him.
Royal Society of Arts
oil on canvas
H 360 x W 462 cm
commissioned for the Society's Meeting Room, c.1777