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Archibald Thorburn


1860 - 1935

Artist, who became known as Britain's best ornithological illustrator. Born in Lasswade (Midlothian), Thorburn was trained mostly by his father, Robert Thorburn (1818-85), a painter of miniatures. He exhibited at the Royal Scottish Academy from the age of ten. On the death of his father in 1885, he settled in London where he briefly attended St. John's Wood School of Art.

Thorburn painted animals and flowers but specialised in birds, particularly game birds, noted for his scientific sense of observation. His work was mostly in watercolour and of remarkable quality. He undoubtedly remains the finest artist of his genre. Unusually for the time he sketched wildlife in the field, rather than from taxidermal models in a studio. He regularly returned to Scotland to sketch birds in the wild, a favourite location being the Forest of Gaick, near Kingussie. Thorburn's output included 144 illustrations for W.F. Swaysland's Familiar Wild Birds (1883) and 268 plates for Lord Lilford's remarkable survey Coloured Figures of the Birds of the British Islands (in seven volumes; 1885-97). On his own account he published British Birds (in four volumes; 1915-16), British Mammals (1920), and the popular Observer's Book of British Birds (1937). He also produced a number of paintings as private commissions.

Thorburn was also an enthusiastic conservationist and became a Vice-President of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. He died in Hascombe (Surrey, England).


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