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    Sale 7555

    Scottish Art The Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh

    23 October 2008, London, King Street

  • Lot 56

    Archibald Thorburn (1860-1935)

    Cock and hen pheasant in the undergrowth

    Price Realised  


    Archibald Thorburn (1860-1935)
    Cock and hen pheasant in the undergrowth
    signed and dated 'A. Thorburn/1927' (lower left)
    pencil and watercolour, with gum arabic, heightened with touches of bodycolour
    14½ x 21½ in. (37 x 55 cm.)

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    The majority of Thorburn's pictures of pheasant were painted in the woods of Gertrude Jekyll's 'Old West Surrey', following Thorburn's move to Hascombe in 1902.

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    No VAT will be charged on the hammer price, but VAT at 15% will be added to the buyer's premium which is invoiced on a VAT inclusive basis.


    Anonymous sale; Christie's, London, 5 June 1998, lot 100.

    Pre-Lot Text

    ARCHIBALD THORBURN (1860-1935)
    (Lots 56 - 61)

    More than seventy years after his death, Archibald Thorburn's depictions of British birdlife and mammals are as popular today as they were with previous sportsmen and birdlovers. Whilst many artists have emulated him, few have captured so realistically the glint in an eye or the sheen that he studied so intently. His works are still the best loved, and most widely reproduced, wildlife pictures in Britain.

    Archibald Thorburn was born at Viewfield House, Lasswade, near Edinburgh, the fifth son of Robert Thorburn, a miniaturist who numbered Queen Victoria amongst his patrons. Although he briefly attended the St. John's Wood School of Art, Thorburn received little formal training. His career as a painter of birds, which became his most popular subject matter, began in 1883, at the age of twenty-three, when he completed 144 plates for W.F. Swaysland's Familiar Wild Birds, but his reputation was secured through his contribution to Lord Lilford's magisterial survey Coloured Figures of the Birds of the British Islands published between 1885 and 1898.

    Thorburn was one of the first British wildlife artists to go into the field and take sketches from life. Whilst his contemporaries were sketching birds from examples that had suffered at the hands of taxidermists, Thorburn, inspired by Joseph Wolf's ability to capture 'an indescribable feeling of life and movement' when depicting his subjects, keenly observed his specimens in their natural habitat. In the words of John Southern, founder of the Thorburn Museum, Liskeard, Cornwall, Thorburn was the first to combine scientific accuracy with 'the fresh softness of the living bird'.

    Although Thorburn moved to London in 1885, he made regular sketching tours of the British Isles, seeking inspiration for his work. In 1889, he first visited the Forest of Gaick in Invernesshire, the setting for almost all his depictions of ptarmigan and red deer, and he became a frequent guest of John Henry Dixon at Inveran on Loch Maree in Rosshire. Thorburn's Scottish watercolours are remarkable for their sense of time and place, and their ability to capture season and weather.

    Following his marriage to Constance Mudie, Thorburn moved to High Leybourne, near Hascombe in west Surrey, in 1902. There he established an undisturbed routine of sketching on his morning walk, and then working these sketches into finished compositions in his studio until the light failed.

    By the 1890s, Thorburn had become disillusioned with the British Institution and showed instead at A. Baird Carter at 70 Jermyn Street, SW1, and with his agents in Blackburn and Newcastle.

    Although he occasionally worked in oil, Thorburn found watercolour the most expressive medium with which to capture his subject's likeness. 'He succeeded where others have faltered because he unsparingly gave his entire life to a minutely detailed and orderly study of our wildlife and its ways, relentlessly prising the deepest secrets from Nature herself in all her changeable moods' (J. Southern, Thorburn's Landscape, London, 1981, p. 15). His unique sketches from life set him apart from his contemporaries, providing him with the basis from which to create works that have brought delight to successive generations of collectors.