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Kitty Fisher

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Kitty Fisher

by Nathaniel Hone
oil on canvas, 1765
29 1/2 in. x 24 1/2 in. (749 mm x 622 mm)
Bequeathed by John Baring, 2nd Baron Revelstoke, 1929
Primary Collection
NPG 2354

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

  • Nathaniel Hone (1718-1784), Portrait and miniature painter. Artist associated with 56 portraits, Sitter in 9 portraits.

This portraitback to top

With prodigious marketing skills Fisher managed her own celebrity status through carefully choreographed publicity stunts and painted and printed images. Collaborating with leading artists such as Sir Joshua Reynolds, and his rival Nathaniel Hone, she understood the way public exhibitions could generate a demand for her face, her body and her sensuality. When this portrait was exhibited, the Public Advertiser commented on 'a portrait of a Lady whose charms are well known to the town'. The artist has ingeniously attempted to indicate her identity: by her side a kitten is attempting to get fish from a goldfish bowl - Kitty Fisher.

Linked publicationsback to top

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  • Cooper, John, A Guide to the National Portrait Gallery, 2009, p. 31 Read entry

    A famous courtesan, having married respectably Fisher died from consumption, but lead positioning was also to blame.

  • Gibson, Robin, The Face in the Corner: Animal Portraits from the Collections of the National Portrait Gallery, 1998, p. 44
  • Kerslake, John, Early Georgian Portraits, 1977, p. 74
  • Robin Gibson, Pets in Portraits, 2015, p. 73 Read entry

    When this portrait was exhibited anonymously at the Society of Arts, London, in 1765, the art critic of the newspaper The Public Advertiser observed: ‘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.’ In fact, the artist’s punning clue, the ‘rebus’ of the kitten fishing, can scarcely have been necessary, for Kitty Fisher was not only one of the most celebrated beauties in the London of the late 1750s and early 1760s but was also a notorious courtesan.

    The artist, the Dublin-born Nathaniel Hone, was not otherwise known for his wit, but the portrait bears all the hallmarks of the considerable charm he brought in particular to portraits of children, whom he often pictured with a favourite pet. The mischievous black-and-white kitten was in more ways than one a suitable metaphor for his subject here, and the image is laden with symbolism. With a certain naive innocence, Kitty had published a defence of her character in 1759, and the reflection in the goldfish bowl of the crowd of people watching through the window is a vivid comment on the sort of invasion of privacy from the media with which we are all too familiar today. The goldfish in themselves are unusual, possibly even making their first appearance in a European painting. They are believed to have been first introduced into Britain from China some seventy years before the date of this picture and were probably shipped in large glass bowls similar to this one.

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 218
  • Schama, Simon, The Face of Britain: The Nation Through its Portraits, 2015-09-15, p. 306

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Events of 1765back to top

Current affairs

George Grenville is dismissed as Prime Minister. He is succeeded by Charles Watson-Wentworth, 2nd Marquess of Rockingham.
Isle of Man is brought under British control.
Stamp Act requires that printed materials in the colonies, such as legal documents and newspapers, are produced on paper made in London carrying an embossed revenue stamp.

Art and science

Nevil Maskelyne becomes Astronomer Royal.
Writer Samuel Johnson publishes his edition of Shakespeare.
Inventor James Watt makes a breakthrough in the development of the steam engine by constructing a model with a separate condenser.
Judge and politician William Blackstone publishes his influential work Commentaries on the Laws of England.


Robert Clive secures the rights for the East India Company to collect taxes in Bengal from Mughal Emperor Shah Alam.
American campaigners against the Stamp Act organise themselves as the Sons of Liberty in Massachusetts and New York.

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