John Kay (caricaturist)

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Selfportrait of John Kay, 1786
Portrait of Adam Smith by John Kay, 1790.

John Kay (1742 – 21 February 1826)[1] was a Scottish caricaturist and engraver.

Memorial stone in Greyfriars Kirkyard


He was born near Dalkeith, where his father was a mason. At thirteen he was apprenticed to a barber, whom he served for six years. He then went to Edinburgh, where in 1771 he obtained the freedom of the city by joining the corporation of barber-surgeons. In 1784 he published his first caricature, of Laird Robertson.[2] In 1785, induced by the favour which greeted certain attempts of his to etch in aquafortis, he took down his barber's pole and opened a small print shop in Parliament Close. There he continued to flourish, painting miniatures, and publishing at short intervals his sketches and caricatures of local celebrities and oddities, who abounded at that period in Edinburgh society.

Kay's portraits were collected by Hugh Paton and published under the title A series of original portraits and caricature etchings by the late John Kay, with biographical sketches and illustrative anecdotes (Edinburgh, 2 vols. 4to, 1838; 8vo ed., 4 vols., 1842; new 4to ed., with additional plates, 2 vols., 1877), forming a unique record of the social life and popular habits of Edinburgh at its most interesting epoch.

Kay's famous shop on the Royal Mile was destroyed during the Great Edinburgh Fire of November 1824.[3]

He died in Edinburgh and was buried at the north end of Greyfriars Kirkyard.

The British Museum has extensive holdings of his works, including two albums apparently assembled by Kay himself [4], both described in the Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires Preserved in the Department of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum[5]

Some persons caricatured by Kay[edit]


  1. ^ Bryant, Mark (1994). Dictionary of British Cartoonists and Caricaturists, 1730-198. London, England: Lund Humphries Publishers Ltd. p. 129. ISBN 978-0859679763.
  2. ^ Chambers, Robert (1874–1875). Thomas Thomson, ed. Biographical Dictionary of Eminent Scotsmen. Glasgow: Blackie & Son. p. 415.
  3. ^ Grant's Old and New Edinburgh
  4. ^ "Kay's Caricatures". (1) 159.b.23/4 with 343 plates & (2) 298* a.8 with 205 plates
  5. ^ George, M Dorothy (1870–1954). 'Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires Preserved in the Department of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum. London: The British Museum.CS1 maint: Date format (link)

External links[edit]