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Oil painting - A Little girl nursing a kitten
  • A Little girl nursing a kitten
    Northcote, James, born 1746 - died 1831
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A Little girl nursing a kitten

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Place of origin:

    Great Britain (probably, painted)

  • Date:

    1795 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Northcote, James, born 1746 - died 1831 (artist)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Oil on canvas

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by Madeleine Antoinette Godchaux

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Museum of Childhood, Costume, Play and Learn Gallery, case EXP

Jmaes Northcote studied under the artist Joshua Reynolds but never quite reached the same levels of popularity and commercial success as his master. Throughout his career, Northcote turned to many different painting genres including portraiture, literary themes, history paintings and animal painting.

A Little Girl Nursing a Kitten is in the tradition of the eighteenth century 'fancy picture'. These were pleasing or entertaining pictures of a sentimental nature which usually features women, children and/or animals.

Physical description

Portrait format oil painting of a girl, full length, cradling a kitten in her arms. On the ground to her right sits a dog looking up at her.

Place of Origin

Great Britain (probably, painted)


1795 (painted)


Northcote, James, born 1746 - died 1831 (artist)

Materials and Techniques

Oil on canvas

Marks and inscriptions

Signed and dated 1795


Height: 43.5 in estimate, Width: 34 in estimate, Height: 1374 mm framed, Width: 1115 mm framed, Depth: 100 mm framed

Object history note

Bequeathed by Madeleine Antoinette Godchaux, 1886

Historical significance: James Northcote (1746-1831) was born in Plymouth, Devon. He began teaching himself painting whilst he was still in Devon.In 1771 he moved to London to study at the Royal Academy Schools. He was a pupil and resident assistant to Sir Joshua Reynolds, President of the Royal Academy, from 1771 to 1775. Northcote travelled to Italy in 1777. He remained there until 1780 and was elected into Academies in Florence and Rome. On returning to London he worked predominantly as a portrait artist although he also produced history paintings. He was elected ARA in 1786 and RA in 1787. He exhibited over 200 works at the Royal Academy between 1773 and1828, and also exhibited at the British Institution and the Society of Artists. He was principally a portrait painter, but also painted fancy pictures and historical subjects, including several for Boydell's famous Shakespeare Gallery. Many of his works were engraved. Northcote also contributed to the literature on art by writing biographies of artists. He published the Life of Sir Joshua Reynolds in 1813 and The Life of Titian in1830. There is a portrait drawing of him in the V&A (museum number 3007-1876).

This portrait was acquired by the V&A in 1886 through the bequest of Madeleine Antoinette Godchaux along with Lady in a White Dress (museum number 344-1886), also painted by Northcote. 345-1886 came in to the museum under the title of Little Girl Nursing a Kitten. Recently Jacob Simon has identified 344-1886 as being the portrait of Mrs. Stately, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1796 (221), and 345-1886 as being the portrait of her daughter Miss Stately (See "The Account Book of James Northcote", Simon, J). This attribution has been made on the basis of the description in the artists account book of the painting:

"Full length, standing young girl nursing a kitten in her arms, shaggy dog sits at l. (left) and looks up at cat."

This description of the portrait of Miss Stately matches the composition of 345-1886. This identification is further supported by the painting being signed and dated 1795 by the artist. This portrait was engraved by S. W. Reynolds and published by J. Brydon in 1796 under the title of "The Age of Innocence" (RA folio no.47).

The young girl is placed in the centre foreground of this painting. She looks out of the painting holding a kitten in her arms, which she has gathered in her muslin apron. At her feet sits a spaniel. There is an interesting interaction between the dog who intensely looks up at the cat, gathered in its mistress’s arms. The subject matter and its treatment follow earlier examples of portraiture of children, particularly those by Reynolds. There is a strong similarity in the observation of the rapport between child and animals which recalls that in Reynolds' portrait of Miss Bowles (Wallace Collection, London, P36). A pupil of Reynolds, Northcote is known to have produced a copy of this highly popular painting (See Mannings and Postle, cat.231). By including animals in this painting Northcote is able to convey the maternal behaviour of Miss Stately as she is shown caring for both animals. Similarly the presentation of the young girl gathering up her apron with her arms folded across her chest is reminiscent of A Strawberry Girl by Reynolds (Wallace Collection, P40).

Miss Stately is shown wearing a pink dress with a white muslin apron over the top. Falling to her ankles, the dress reveals a pair of scarlet silk pumps. Her hair is worn loose. The style of dress recalls that of girls worn in portraits by Reynolds such as those of Lady Gertrude Fitzpatrick (‘Collina’) and Lady Anne Fitzpatrick (‘Sylvia’) (engraved by Samuel William Reynolds 1787; National Portrait Gallery, museum numbers: NPGD 36952 and NPGD1959 respectively). The style evokes peasant costume of the eighteenth century, reflecting the fashion for portraiture of children in outdoor settings wearing this dress in the last quarter of the eighteenth century.

In 1795 Norhtcote also painted individual portraits of the young girl's father and mother. Lady in a White Dress (museum number: 344-1886) is also signed by Northcote and dated 1795. The fact that Lady in a White Dress and Little Girl Nursing a Kitten were both in the collection of Madeleine Antoinette Godchaux prior to their acquisition by the V&A in 1886 would suggest that these works were originally part of a group of portraits. A comparison of the compositional elements of 344-1886 with the portrait of Andrew Stately (sold, Christies, 30th March 1962) suggests that these two works were conceived as a pair. This along with the description of Miss Stately in Northcote's account book corresponding with the composition of 345-1886 suggests that these are two of the three paintings commissioned by the Stately family.


Simon, J."The Account Book of James Northcote", pp.21-125, in. The Walpole Society, 1995/96, no.38, p.65.

Mannings, D. and Postle, M., Sir Joshua Reynolds: A Complete Catalogue of His Paintings, New Haven and London, 2000, volumes I and II, cat. 231.

Descriptive line

Oil on canvas, 'A Little Girl Nursing a Kitten', James Northcote, 1795

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Simon, J."The Account Book of James Northcote", pp.21-125, in. The Walpole Society, 1995/96, no.38, p.65.


Oil; Canvas


Oil painting

Subjects depicted

Girl; Dog; Cat




Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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