John Kay John Kay, 1742 - 1826. Caricaturist (Self-portrait) About 1786


Born 1742
Died 1826
Nationality Scottish
Birth place Dalkeith
Death place Edinburgh

John Kay was a portrait etcher and miniature painter who was born near Dalkeith. Self-taught, he originally started working as a barber in Edinburgh but devoted his spare time to art. In 1785 he left the barber’s trade for caricature portraiture. He made nearly 900 plates of almost every notable Scotsman of his time, with the exception of Burns. His portraits give us a quaint picture of Edinburgh society. He quickly and deftly summed up the characters of those living in prosperous Georgian Edinburgh. His etchings of Adam Smith are, with the medallion by Tassie, the only authentic likeness of him that exist.

Glossary terms

Glossary terms


A form of printmaking in which a metal plate is covered with a substance called a 'ground', usually wax, into which an image is drawn with a needle. Acid is applied, eroding the areas of the plate exposed but not the areas covered by wax. The action of the acid creates lines in the metal plate that hold the ink from which a print is made when the plate is pressed against paper under pressure.