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Early Georgian Portraits Catalogue

Catherine Maria ('Kitty') Fisher (circa 1741-1767), Courtesan

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, [1] now at Kenwood, Iveagh Bequest, lent to the British Institution in 1813 (132) by Lord Boringdon, [2] the rather Ramsay-like Reynolds at Petworth showing her with hands crossed on a ledge and a letter dated 2 June 1759, [3] also engraved by Fisher, 17 July 1759, and the Hone (NPG 2354) 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. [4] A second payment of £52.10s by Mr. Crewe in April 1774 usually associated with this picture [5] 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, [6] in 1762, 1764 and 1766. [7] 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. [8] 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. [9] Another descended in the Proby family from Lord Carysfort, purchased in the Reynolds sale of 1796, [10] seems, on comparison with authentic portraits, the least close. Dated by Waterhouse as 1766, [11] 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. [12] A portrait by Francis Cotes, known at the time as a Reynolds and seen at Wimpole by Scharf in 1879, [13] was later found to be signed and dated 1768, a year after the sitter's death. It is now in the Tate Gallery (4689).

1) Sir Ellis K. Waterhouse, Reynolds (English Master Painters), 1941, p 45, pl.59 and p 121.
2) John Parker, 2nd Baron Boringdon, created Earl of Morley, 1815.
3) Read '1760' by C. H. Collins Baker, Catalogue of the Petworth Collection of Pictures ..., 1920, p 103 (90).
4) Sir Ellis K. Waterhouse, Reynolds (English Master Painters), 1941, p 54, pl.102.
5) M. Cormack, 'The Ledgers of Sir Joshua Reynolds', Walpole Society, XLII, 1970, pp 105-69, p 148, 1st ledger, 2nd payment, 13 April 1774.
6) C. R. Leslie and T. Taylor, Life and Times of Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1865, p 202, and note 6.
7) Ibid, pp 218, 240, 266 and note 8.
8) M. Cormack, 'The Ledgers of Sir Joshua Reynolds', Walpole Society, XLII, 1970, p 111, 1st ledger, 1st payment n.d. [before 1760]; p 145, 2nd ledger; p 130, 1st ledger.
9) Ibid, p 162, 2nd ledger; A. Graves and W. V. Cronin, A History of the Works of Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1899-1901, p 310 - noted as burnt in 1816.
10) John Joshua Proby, Baron Carysfort (1751-1828), Greenwood's, 14 April 1796, lot 67; last exhibited ‘British Portraits', RA, 1956-57 (290).
11) Sir Ellis K. Waterhouse, Reynolds (English Master Painters), 1941, p 57, pl.62A.
12) Sir Ellis K. Waterhouse, Reynolds (English Master Painters), 1941, p 57; bought Phillips, RA, £5.15s, A. Graves and W. V. Cronin, A History of the Works of Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1899-1901, p 308; at Christie's, 9 May 1846, lot 39, bought Farrer; cp Catalogue of the Collection of Pictures ... at the Lansdowne House, London and Bowood, Wilts., 1897, p 84.
13) Sir George Scharf's Trustees' Sketchbooks, XXVI, f.73r, 79r; another attributed to Cotes reproduced Connoisseur, LVII, 1920, p 190.


This extended catalogue entry is from the out-of-print National Portrait Gallery collection catalogue: John Kerslake, Early Georgian Portraits, Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1977, and is as published then. For the most up-to-date details on individual Collection works, we recommend reading the information provided in the Search the Collection results on this website in parallel with this text.