Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Catherine Maria ''Kitty'' Fisher (d.1767) 1760s

Nathaniel Hone the Elder (17181784)

Portrait of Catherine Maria ''Kitty'' Fisher (d.1767), Nathaniel Hone the Elder
Oil on canvas
18th Century
23 1/2 x 19 1/2 inches 60 x 49.5 cm
The Rt. Hon. the Earl of Northesk.
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This exquisite portrait sketch is almost derives from Kitty Fisher's 1765 sittings to Hone, which produced the slightly larger and finished portrait exhibited at the Society of Artists 1765 (54). This latter painting shows Kitty Fisher looking to the front with to one side a canting reference to her name, as a ''kitty fisher'' reaches with a paw into a goldfish bowl. This portrait -now in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery, NPG 2354- displays identical treatment of the flesh tones and hair as the current example, and also shows Hone's characteristic ''dark'' colouring of the whites of the eyes. Whether this profile sketch was an abandoned idea for a completed composition cannot be discovered for certain. It is equally possible that it was a spontaneous project of the artist, impressed by Fisher's beauty and keen to record her remarkable profile.

Kitty Fisher had a similarly electric effect on the rest of London that encountered her. Satire -Kitty's Stream, or the Noblemen turned Fishermen 1759- claimed that her origins were ''low and mean'' and that by trade she was a milliner. Her origins were, at any rate, obscure -she most probably came from Germany- and she was introduced to Society by an army officer, Ensign (later Lieutenant-General) Anthony George Martin. She swiftly acquired a reputation as a beauty, a wit and a daring horsewoman. Her impact on London was plainly considerable, as in the years 1759-1760 a number of satirical broadsheets took her as their theme. The effect of this was such that in March 1759 there appeared in the Public Advertiser an appeal signed C. Fisher against ''the baseness of little scribblers and scurvy malevolence,'' which complains that she has been ''abused in public papers, exposed in print shops.'' Some years later she took to a less controversial existence, marrying John Norris, MP for Rye, and devoting herself to rebuilding her husband's fortunes. She died in Bath in 1767 -reputedly from the effects of white lead face-paints- and gave a celebrated instruction to be placed in the coffin wearing her best dress.

Her name has survived not only through the portraiture of Hone and Reynolds -some of which are posthumous- but through a number of rhymes and proverbial expressions, such as the children''s favourite Lucy Locket lost her pocket, Kitty Fisher found it.
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