John Kay Was A Portrait Etcher & Miniature Painter
John Kay was a portrait etcher and miniature painter who was born in 1742 near Dalkeith. Some of his portraits have been used to decorate the ground floor café and the smaller of the two private rooms on the first floor. Self-taught, he originally started working as a barber in Edinburgh but devoted his spare time to art.
In 1785 Kay left the barber’s trade for caricature portraiture. He based himself in Edinburgh, where he achieved some notoriety as a caricaturist. But there is an East Lothian connection: his patron was William Nisbet of Dirleton (1747–1822), by marriage and inheritance one of the wealthiest lairds in Scotland.
Kay made nearly 900 plates of almost every notable Scotsman of his time, his portraits giving us a quaint picture of Edinburgh society. He quickly and deftly summed up the characters of those living in prosperous Georgian Edinburgh. His famous bookshop in the Royal Mile burned down in the Great Edinburgh Fire of 1824, and Kay died two years later at the age of 84.