The barber, the artist and the Scottish Enlightenment

John Kay self portraitThis is John Kay. John worked as a barber on Edinburgh’s High Street during one of the most exciting times in our city’s history – the period known as the Scottish Enlightenment.

Kay just had to look out of his window onto the High Street to observe some of the world’s leading thinkers in the fields of philosophy, medicine and politics going about their daily business. He could also observe some of these illustrious characters in the more intimate surroundings of the barber’s chair.

This was particularly fortuitous, because alongside his career as a barber Kay pursued an active interest in art, producing hundreds of caricatures of the most notable figures in Scottish society. These etchings are full of humour and satire – indeed, the less than flattering nature of some of his work made him a target for legal action on several occasions.

Read his story on Our Town Stories to find out which celebrities of the Scottish Enlightenment caught John Kay’s attention, and view some examples of his unique style of portraiture.

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