'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.

Key facts

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
110.5 x 123.6 cm
Acquisition credit
Acquired under the acceptance-in-lieu procedure, 2001
Inventory number
Location in Gallery