Archibald Thorburn was born in Edinburgh in 1860, the fifth son of Robert Thorburn, miniaturist painter to Queen Victoria.
Archibald’s first bird illustrations were published when he was 22 years old, in J.E.Harting’s Sketches of Bird Life.
Five years later he was invited to undertake the illustration for the monumental work by Lord Lilford Coloured Figures of Birds in the British Isles. When this was published in 1888 it was observed that “demand has dramatically increased upon sight of the young Mr Thorburn’s illustrations. Never before have such beautiful plates of birds been seen and the success of his Lordships’ volumes seems firmly assured”. You can see a copy of this work in the museum library.
Buyers today of the Observer Book of British Birds are seldom aware that many of the illustration are those painted by Archibald Thorburn, some hundred years earlier.
He exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy and illustrated the first Christmas card by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in 1899. Between then and 1935, he illustrated 19 of their Christmas cards and donated them to the Society.
Archibald Thorburn lived at High Leybourne in Hascombe. In 1930 it was reported “Mr Thorburn, the well known Surrey naturalist and bird artist, steadfastly refuses to install electricity at his lovely home in Hascombe. As a painter he relies solely on natural light, working long hours indeed in the summer months but much shorter ones during the brief days of winter. Just occasionally he resorts to the use of his oil lamps, especially if drawing mice in the dimness of his garden shed.”
Archibald Thorburn died at High Leybourne in October 1935 and is buried in Busbridge churchyard.
In 2006 the museum acquired a painting by Thorburn, dated 1905, and is of Wildfowl on the Shore: Pintails, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Sheldrake, Ruddy Shelduck, Brent and Barnacle Goose, and which is on display.