Early Georgian Portraits Catalogue: Fisher

The following text is from the National Portrait Gallery collection catalogue: John Kerslake, Early Georgian Portraits, Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1977 (now out of print). For the most up to date research on the Collection, we recommend reading the information provided in the Search the Collection results on this website in parallel with this text. This can be accessed by following the link with each portrait’s title.

In consulting the following, please note that apart from the reformatting which allows the printed catalogue to be made available on-line the text is as published in 1977. Footnotes in the original edition are given within square brackets.

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Catharine Maria ('Kitty') Fisher (or Fischer) (d.1767)
Courtesan; of obscure, possibly German origin, famed for her beauty, wit, and as a daring horsewoman; the subject of many, and at times abusive verses; became the second wife of John Norris of Benenden, sometime MP for Rye. 

2354 By Nathaniel Hone, 1765
Oil on canvas, 29 ½ x 24 ½ in. (749 x 622 mm); dark blue eyes, dark brown hair dressed high and parted in the centre, loose curls falling to her right shoulder, rather pale complexion, the cheeks perhaps lightly rouged; oyster-grey low cut dress, embroidered fichu held in her left hand partly covers the pendant of her coral necklace, rows of pearls on her left wrist; pale mauve drapery behind her head and, right foreground, a black cat fishing in a bowl of goldfish, plain blue background behind; lit from the left.

Signed and dated in yellow script: N Hone pt./ 1765. The remains of two labels on the top and centre bars of the stretcher read: 8th December 1913, and [P]ortrait of Kitt…/ ..Hone; another removed from the back of the canvas, in Dr Cock's hand (c.1913? see provenance): Kitty Fisher painted / by Nathaniel Hone 1765. / She married Mr Norris M P / of Hemsted Park, Benenden / Kent. died four months / afterwards of small pox at / Bath. Buried in her best dress / in the family vault in Benenden / Church 1767. F. William Cock m.d.

No other version of NPG 2354 is known. It may well be the portrait exhibited by the artist in 1765: 'This is a portrait of a Lady, whose charms are well known to the town. The Painter has ingeniously attempted to acquaint us with her name by a rebus upon Canvass. By her side a Kitten (Kitty) is attempting to get into a basin of Gold Fish (Kitty Fisher)—what a pity it is he did not make the Rebus complete and according to Subtle in the "Alchemist", place on the other side a Dog snarling—er—Kitty Fish—er!' [1]

Condition: good; cleaned and varnished, 1970.

Collections: received, 1929, by bequest, with a portrait of Lady Elizabeth Foster (NPG 2355) from Lord Revelstoke; the portrait, according to a letter dated 11 July 1929 from Dr F.W. Cock of Ashford, Kent, was believed to have been acquired by purchase from the collection of Captain Robertson-Aikman [2] 'in the early part of the nineteenth century'; at his death it was bought by his son who bequeathed it to his sister who, in turn, left it to her physician Dr Cock; brought, 1913, by Dr Cock to the Gallery for identification; bought from him by Lord Revelstoke.

Exhibited: probably Society of Artists, 1765 (54), where a portrait of a lady by Hone was identified by Walpole as Kitty Fisher with a cat and goldfish; [3] also ‘Allan Ramsay: His Masters and Rivals', National Gallery of Scotland, 1963 (86).

Literature: Catalogue of the Collection of Pictures . . . at the Lansdowne House, London and Bowood, Wilts., 1897; C.H. Collins Baker, Catalogue of the Petworth Collection of Pictures . . ., 1920.

Iconography
There has been a tendency to identify girls by Reynolds with a retroussé nose as Kitty Fisher. Three portrait types only are from life. These are the Reynolds of her as Cleopatra engraved by Edward Fisher, 1759, [4] now at Kenwood, Iveagh Bequest, lent to the British Institution in 1813 (132) by Lord Boringdon, [5] the rather Ramsay-like Reynolds at Petworth showing her with hands crossed on a ledge and a letter dated 2 June 1759, [6] also engraved by Fisher, 17 July 1759, and the Hone (NPG 2354, above) of 1765. The well-known Reynolds formerly owned by Lord Crewe and now in a private collection is of a lady in ermine wrap, seen with two doves. Although the features compare well with authentic portraits, on hair style the portrait is likely to have been painted just after Kitty's death rather than in 1764-5, as suggested by Waterhouse. [7] A second payment of £52. 10s by Mr. Crewe in April 1774 usually associated with this picture [8] suggests that it was not completed until then.

The Reynolds portraits are presumed to stem from sittings between 1761 and 1766 and there are frequent entries in the diaries during these years. According to Leslie. and Taylor she sat in 1761 when a portrait was also being engraved, [9] in 1762, 1764 and 1766. [10] There are also a number of payments in Reynolds' ledgers, some of which must relate to posthumous repetitions and versions. For example: 'Sr. Charles Bingham for Miss Fisher 10-10'; March 19, 1774, 'Sir Charles Bingham, remaining for Miss Fisher 10-10'; a second payment for 'Mrs. Norris 52-10' is noted after 14 July 1769. [11] A picture supposedly of the sitter but perhaps representing another Miss Fisher was among several paid for in May 1782 by the Duke of Rutland. [12] Another descended in the Proby family from Lord Carysfort, purchased in the Reynolds sale of 1796, [13] seems, on comparison with authentic portraits, the least close. Dated by Waterhouse as 1766, [14] it may well have been named because of the similarity in pose to the Petworth portrait of the sitter. In the seated three-quarter length at Bowood, Lansdowne collection, the resemblance to Kitty's face is nearer. This portrait, also dated 1766 by Waterhouse, was apparently first recorded as a 'Lady with a parrot; head finished' in the Thomond sale, 26 May 1821, lot 35. [15] A portrait by Francis Cotes, known at the time as a Reynolds and seen at Wimpole by Scharf in 1879, [16] was later found to be signed and dated 1768, a year after the sitter's death. It is now in the Tate Gallery (4689).

Notes
1. The Public Advertiser, 10 May 1765, cited in Notes & Queries, CXLVIII, 21 March 1925, p.204, by Horace Blackley. I am grateful to Miss Wimbush who suggests that the reference to The Alchemist occurs in Act II, Scene VI, in which Subtle completes a sign for ‘Able Drugger' with a dog to symbolize 'er'.
2. Presumably Captain Hugh Robertson-Aikman (1819-82), descendant of Aikman, the painter, Burke, Landed Gentry, 1906, pp.9-10.
3. Walpole Society, XXVII, p.68.
4. Waterhouse, 1941, p.45, pl.59 and p.121.
5. John Parker, 2nd Baron Boringdon, created Earl of Morley, 1815.
6. Read '1760' by Collins Baker, p.103 (90).
7. Waterhouse, 1941, p.54, pl.102.
8. Cormack, p.148, 1st ledger, 2nd payment, 13 April 1774.
9. Leslie and Taylor, p.202, and note 6.
10. Ibid, pp.218, 240, 266 and note 8.
11. Cormack, p.111, 1st ledger, 1st payment n.d. [before 1760]; p.145, 2nd ledger; p 130, 1st ledger.
12. Ibid, p.162, 2nd ledger; Graves and Cronin, p.310—noted as burnt in 1816.
13. John Joshua Proby, Baron Carysfort (1751-1828), Greenwood's, 14 April 1796, lot 67; last exhibited ‘British Portraits', RA, 1956-57 (290).
14. Waterhouse, 1941, p.57, pl.62A.
15. Waterhouse, 1941, p.57; bought Phillips, RA, £5. 15s, Graves and Cronin, p.308; at Christie's, 9 May 1846, lot 39, bought Farrer; cp Catalogue . . . Lansdowne House . . ., 1897, p 84.
16. TSB, XXVI, f.73r, 79r; another attributed to Cotes reproduced Connoisseur, LVII, 1920, p.190.