Archibald Thorburn was a Scottish artist and bird illustrator, painting mostly in watercolour. He regularly visited Scotland to sketch birds in the wild, his favourite haunt being the Forest of Gaick near Kingussie in Invernesshire. His widely reproduced images of British wildlife, with their evocative and dramatic backgrounds, are enjoyed as much today as they were by sportsmen and bird lovers of a century ago.
Archibald was the fifth son of Robert Thorburn, portrait miniaturist to Queen Victoria. His first education was at Dalkeith and in Edinburgh, after which he was sent to the newly founded St. John’s Wood School of Art in London. His stay there was only brief, since on the death of his father he sought the guidance of Joseph Wolf. It was his commission in 1887 to illustrate Lord Lilford’s Coloured Figures of the Birds of the British Isles, for which he painted some 268 watercolours, which established his reputation. He illustrated numerous sporting and natural history books, including his own.
His paintings were regularly exhibited at the Royal Academy and he designed their first Christmas card for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in 1899, a practice that he continued until 1935. He was Vice-President of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. In the 1890s Thorburn became disheartened by the British Institution and had his work shown at A. Baird Carter of 70 Jermyn Street.
On his marriage to Constance Mudie, Thorburn moved to High Leybourne in Hascombe in 1902, where he was to spend the rest of his life. In the 1930s he refused to make use of electric lighting, preferring natural light for his painting, and making use of lamps and candles. His grave is at St. John the Baptist Church in Busbridge, Godalming.