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Sir Henry Raeburn: ''The Archers''

'The Archers' is one of a small number of outstanding portraits from the early part of Raeburn's career, in which he employed an exceptionally accomplished and subtle fusion of arresting compositions and dramatic treatment of light and shade to create a sense of intimacy between the spectator and the sitters. The portrait is datable to about 1789 or 1790, when the young subjects were in their late teens. Robert and Ronald Ferguson became members of the Royal Company of Archers in 1792 and 1801 respectively and the contemporary revival of archery as a fashionable sport appears to have served as inspiration for the composition. The two brothers are shown in a striking and complex arrangement of contrasts. Robert is lit from the left, while Ronald behind him is shown entirely in shadow, gazing out at the viewer while framed in the tautened bow of his brother. The stillness, darkness and broad, confident application of paint combine to create a sense of hushed atmosphere, which is at once formal and verging on the romantic.


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