This iconic image portrays a foursome golf match (where teams of two golfers take alternate shots with the same ball) and is set on the world-famous Old Course at the Royal and Ancient Golf Club in St Andrews. The painting is over one hundred and fifty years old, yet the busy, panoramic scene of people reacting in various ways to the match being played in their midst, will seem familiar to fans of the modern-day game. Similar crowds will be following contemporary golfers such as Colin Montgomerie or defending champion, Padraig Harrington at this month’s Open Championship at Turnberry.
The modern game of golf evolved in Scotland, where it remains a hugely popular sport. Lees’ painting will be a key image in ‘Sport in Nineteenth-Century Scotland’, one of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery’s opening displays when it reopens in 2011, which will consider sports such as golf in a wider historical context.
Charles Lees studied painting in Edinburgh, where he was taught by Henry Raeburn, and became a Royal Scottish Academician while he was still in his twenties. Although he was predominantly a portrait painter, Lees is now best-known as a painter of sporting scenes and ‘The Golfers’, painted in 1847, is acknowledged as his masterpiece. Lees may have used an early photograph of golfers at St Andrews by David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson, taken around 1845, to help compose the dramatic postures of the central characters.