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'The Archers'
Sir Henry Raeburn
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The Archers’ is one of a small number of outstanding portraits from the early part of Raeburn’s career and was probably painted in about 1789 or 1790, when the 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 inspired the composition.

The two brothers are shown in a striking and complex geometrical arrangement that plays on tonal contrasts. Robert, in wonderfully outlined profile, 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 held by his elder brother. The horizontal arrow precisely divides the canvas in two. The way the figures are arranged resembles a classical sculptural frieze – appropriate to Scotland of the Enlightenment, when a renewed interest in antiquity influenced the thought and aesthetics of the country.

Key facts
Artist Sir Henry Raeburn
Artist dates 1756 - 1823
Full title Robert Ferguson of Raith 1770-1840 and Lieutenant-General Sir Ronald Ferguson 1773-1841 ('The Archers')
Date made about 1789-90
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 110.5 x 123.6 cm
Acquisition credit Acquired under the acceptance-in-lieu procedure, 2001
Inventory number NG6589
Location in Gallery Room 34
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