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Catherine ‘Kitty’ Fisher, later Mrs Norris (d.1767)

Sir Joshua Reynolds PRA (Plympton 1723 - London 1792)

Category

Art / Oil paintings

Date

1759 (inscribed on letter)

Materials

Oil on canvas

Measurements

1090 x 960 x 140 mm

Place of origin

London

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Collection

Petworth House and Park, West Sussex (Accredited Museum)

On show at

Petworth House and Park, West Sussex, London and South East, National Trust

NT 486167

Caption

Kitty Fisher was a friend of Reynolds’s, and had a reputation as a courtesan, but on the 9th of November 1766 she married John Norris, MP, of Hempsted Manor, Benenden, Kent, who was MP for Rye 1762–1774. She died at Bath four months later, at the age of about twenty-six, ‘a victim to cosmetics’ (or small pox), and was buried “in her best dress” on 23 Mar 1767. By 1760 a pamphlet addressed to her by ‘Simon Trusty’ claimed that ‘Your Lovers are the Great Ones of the Earth, and your Admirers are the Mighty; they never approach you but, like Jove, in a shower of Gold.’ Her voracity was notorious and when Casanova met her in London in 1764, covered in diamonds and waiting to go to a ball, he was told that she had once clapped a £20 note into a bread-and-butter sandwich and consumed it.

Summary

Oil painting on canvas, Catherine ‘Kitty’ Fisher, later Mrs Norris (d.1767) by Sir Joshua Reynolds (Plympton 1723 - London 1792), the letter resting on the table is inscribed: 1759 June 2. My dearest Kit. A half-length portrait of a young woman, full face, her head tilted a little to the left, her arms along a red covered ledge, on which a letter lies. She is wearing a deep brown-black bodice, gold embroidered, green ribbons at bosom and lace frills, with a four row pearl necklace and a green enamel tiara set with pearls. Kitty Fisher (c.1741–1767) was reputed to have been the daughter of a German staymaker. She was a friend of Reynolds’s, and had a reputation as a courtesan, but on the 9th of November 1766 she married John Norris, MP, of Hempsted Manor, Benenden, Kent, who was MP for Rye 1762–1774. She died at Bath four months later, at the age of about twenty-six, ‘a victim to cosmetics’ (or small pox), and was buried “in her best dress” on 23 Mar 1767 in the Norris family vault at Benenden, Kent, where there is, however, no memorial either to her or to her husband.

Provenance

Kitty Fisher sat for Reynolds on a number of occasions from 1759-1767, the present portrait probably being the earliest that he painted of her. It was acquired by the 3rd Earl of Egremont (1751-1837) before 1835 and thence by descent, until the death in 1952 of the 3rd Lord Leconfield, who had given Petworth to the National Trust in 1947, and whose nephew and heir, John Wyndham, 6th Lord Leconfield and 1st Lord Egremont (1920-72) arranged for the acceptance of the major portion of the collections at Petworth in lieu of death duties (the first ever such arrangement) in 1956 by HMTreasury.

Credit line

Petworth House, The Egremont Collection (acquired in lieu of tax by HM Treasury in 1956 and subsequently transferred to the National Trust)

Marks and inscriptions

Recto: 1759 June 2. My Dearest Kit (inscribed on the letter but there is disagreement as to whether the date is 1759, 1760 or 1782) Verso: In white chalk on stretcher: 90; in blue ink on small circular label: HAB [=Horace Buttery] / E / 13. Labels of various exhibitions [too difficult to read, when hung].

Makers and roles

Sir Joshua Reynolds PRA (Plympton 1723 - London 1792), artist

Exhibition history

Sir Joshua Reynolds - Experiments in Paint, The Wallace Collection, London, 2015, no.13

References

Reynolds, Grand Palais, Paris 9 October-16 December 1985, Royal Academy, London, 16 January - 31 March, 1986, p.193, no.31 Reynolds, Grand Palais, Paris 9 October-16 December 1985, Royal Academy, London, 16 January - 31 March, 1986, p. 193 Reynolds, Grand Palais, Paris 9 October-16 December 1985, Royal Academy, London, 16 January - 31 March, 1986, p.193 Mannings, 2000: David Mannings, Sir Joshua Reynolds: A Complete Catalogue of his Paintings. The Subject Pictures catalogued by Martin Postle, New Haven & London, 2000, no.611, p.188 & pl.417 Joshua Reynolds Experiments in Paint (ed. Lucy Davis and Mark Hallett), The Wallace Collection, London, 12 March - 7 June 2015, pp164-165, cat.13

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