For a successful artist who had a wide circle of pupils, patrons
and friends among his fellow artists it is surprising that Bright
remains such an elusive personality. We still know little of his
childhood, early apprenticeships and his subsequent career, especially
of his travels abroad. The information from present biographical
sources, of which the most authoritative is the short memoir by
F Gordon Roe, is based largely on family anecdote which is not supported
by documentary evidence. However the Hove correspondence has helped
to substantiate some details and recent auction sales of joint works
have confirmed Bright's close professional contact with contemporary
genre and animal painters. His friendship with Samuel Prout seems
to have been closer than previously supposed. As more research is
done on British nineteenth century painters, widely recognised in
their time but since little studied, it is likely that material
will come to light to give a more rounded picture of Bright's working
life and friendships.
Orford Castle 1856, Oil on canvas
by Henry Bright.
Early Life and Norwich
Henry Bright's birthplace was Saxmundham, a small market town in
Suffolk, which is described in the 1797 Universal British Directory:
It is situated upon a hill, and has one large church, and a
differing meeting house. The town consists of about 400 houses,
which are in general pretty good ones; but the streets are narrow,
and not paved. No particular manufacture is carried on here, and
the town contains nothing remarkable. . .
Saxmundham is noted however
not only for Henry Bright, who has been called the last old master
of the Norwich School, but for his father Jerome Bright (1770-1846),
a clockmaker who has the posthumous distinction of being included
in Bailey's [Baillie's?] Watchmakers and Clockmakers of the World,
for the sculptor Thomas Thurlow (1813-1899) and for the master craftsman
in wood Thomas Stopher (b. 1825).
Jerome Bright and Susannah Denny, of Alburgh, Norfolk, were married
on the 28th of June 1790. Jerome established a home and a prosperous
family business in the premises occupied [in the 1970s] by the firm
of I. & J. Ashford Ltd., High Street, Saxmundham [now occupied
by Flick & Son]. It is here that Henry Bright is said to have
been born. He was Jerome's third son and probably the youngest of
at least nine children. The family were nonconformist and attended
the Congregational Chapel built in 1750 at Rendham, three miles
north-west of Saxmundham. The birth dates of two sons and two daughters
between 1793 and 1802 are recorded on the Bright family vault which
bears the inscriptions (worn in places):
In Memory of Harriet. . . Daughter
of J & S Bright of Saxmundham who departed this life June 15th
1810 in the 16th year of her age also [Catherine] who died 1817
aged [?] 21 years also of Alfred their 2nd Son who died Augt . .
. 1821 in the 20th year of his age Also of JEROME BRIGHT who died
July 17th 1846 aged 76 years also of SUSANNAH BRIGHT who died [?]
Jan. 17th 1847 aged 76 years also of JEROME DENNY BRIGHT who died
April 21st 1871 aged 79 years and also JANE FULLER BRIGHT who died
July 10th 1876 aged [?] 83 years
also at the side of the vault is:
NEAR THIS PLACE LIES MARY THE WIFE OF J.D. BRIGHT OF SAXM SHE
DIED OCTR 21ST 1825 AGED 29 YEARS
(Jane Fuller Bright was
probably Jane Banyard, a widow whom Jerome Denny Bright married
as his second wife in 1827.) Whilst the birth in 1795 of another
daughter Mary Ann is known from her memorial at St. Nicholas Congregational
Chapel, Ipswich, no dates are known for two daughters mentioned
in their father's will, Eliza and Maria. Henry Bright's date of
birth is also uncertain. It is given variously, as 5th June 1810,
from a note written by his contemporary and friend William Philip
Barnes Freeman, and as 1814, deduced from the age at his death in
1873 which is given on both death certificate and gravestone as
59 years. The entry of his birth in the Rendham Congregational Church
Register merely states:
Henry Bright the son of Jerome and Susan Bright of the Parish
of Saxmundham was born
The entry is placed between births
and baptisms of 1811 and 1812. Although the register follows a chronological
sequence from 1806 to 1811 later it becomes erratic with dates of
1812 and 1813 interspersed with those of 1808 and 1809. In view
of this, a birth date of 1810 for Henry Bright is a possibility.
This is not refuted by his age at marriage in 1833 which is given
as 21 years, a statement which probably meant just that he was of
age. In the absence of a more substantial record, such as an entry
in a family bible, 1810 seems to be the safest date to accept.
Bright may have spent his early childhood
in the company of Thomas Thurlow who was born in 1813. According
to family tradition, they attended 'Mr. Farrows School for Young
Gentlemen in North Entrance Saxmundham'. Although there appears
to be no record of a Mr. Farrow, there is a schoolmaster (and fire
office agent) by the name of Owen Haxell listed in Pigot's National
Directory for 1830. He is recalled in a colourful autobiographical
memoir by Thomas Thurlow:
About this time a School of a better class was opened in the
Town by Mr. O. Hassell (sic) to which I was sent. . . The Boys called
him Custards - but he was a good master for all that. In my walk
to School I had to pass the shop of an old Blacksmith. . .
The school must have been situated
at North Entrance as Thurlow describes his birthplace in a house
at North Entrance, Saxmundham, and mentions the school opposite:
On the other side I sketch and note the spot where I was born
the school, the old Blacksmith Shop.
Haxell's school was probably
what is now Brook Cottage, North Entrance, Saxmundham. Thurlow's
drawings, after Bright, which he records in his Memoir:
'Landscapes in soft chalks after Bright for which he gave me credit'
could not have been schoolboy productions as he began painting as
an amateur after he left home for London in 1836. In any event their
friendship would have been interrupted by Bright's move to Woodbridge
where he is said to have been apprenticed to a chemist. In 1830
there were three chemists in the town: George Francis, Market Hill;
Benjamin Gall, Thoroughfare, and William Allen Hollick, Stone Street
(Pigot's Directory 1830). According to his memorial in
the chapelyard at Quay Street, Woodbridge, George Francis died in
1860 aged 64, and Benjamin Gall was active in Woodbridge Freemasonry
from 1823 to 1853. Bright could have been apprenticed to one of
these three but no evidence has been found in a preliminary search
through Woodbridge apprenticeship records. He may have begun as
an assistant at twelve years with a view to a formal apprenticeship
at fourteen years but no full term of apprenticeship was served
in Woodbridge as his parents transferred him to Paul Squires, the
Norwich chemist and soda water manufacturer.
In Berry's Directory
1811 Paul Squires is recorded as 'Squires, late Sims, Chemist and
Druggist, London Lane' and the following year he advertises 'Lemon
Syrup' from the same address. In Pigot's Directory 1830
he is listed at 16 London Street and in White's Directory
1836 as 'Squires Paul (soda water mfr.) 26 London Street'. Apart
from his association with Bright, Paul Squires is known chiefly
as the purchaser of three Cotman oils at John Sell Cotman's Sale,
Norwich 1834, lots 110, 111, 112. The latter two paintings, the
well known Baggage Waggon and The Mishap, were
bought for J J Colman at the sale of Paul Squires' widow in 1864.
The last record known of Paul Squires is as the lender of these
oils to the Norfolk and Norwich Fine Arts Association 'Exhibition
of the works of Deceased Local Artists' 1860 (159, 161). He must
have died shortly afterwards and in Simpson's Directory
1864 his premises at 26 London Street are shown to be occupied by
'John Gilman, carver, gilder, printseller, publisher & gallery
of arts'. Paul Squires had obviously an interest in local art matters
but there seems to be no evidence to support Kitson's claim that
he was an amateur artist. He was neither a member of, nor an exhibitor
with, the Norwich Society of Artists.
At some time, either after
or during his employment with Paul Squires, Bright is said to have
worked as dispenser (one source, the Nettlefold Catalogue,
states as apothecary) to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital. Bright
may have obtained the post through Squires who is recorded as a
house visitor to the Hospital from 1827 to 1836. The Hospital Minute
Books were searched for these years (it was assumed Bright would
have been too young at 17 years to be employed before 1827), but
there is no evidence in them that Henry Bright was employed in any
capacity at the Hospital during this time. All Hospital appointments
seem to have been reported to the weekly board meetings and the
post of apothecary is well documented. Richard Griffin held the
post until 1831 when a resolution was passed, on the recommendation
of the medical staff, that the apothecary should be a Licentiate
of the Apothecary's Company. Griffin presumably was not licensed
as he resigned in June and was succeeded by Edward Copeman who held
the post until March 1835. On his resignation the post was filled
temporarily for one month by a Mr. Rathill. He was succeeded by
Charles Goodwin who remained apothecary until at least November
1836 by which time Bright had moved to London. It is possible Bright
was employed just as a junior assistant at the Hospital and a further
search through the Hospital records might prove worthwhile. On the
other hand there may be some confusion with a separate institution
the Norwich Dispensary, for which there are few records extant.
The name of the apothecary for the Dispensary and another institution,
the Workhouse Dispensary, is listed in the Norfolk and Norwich
Gentleman's Memorandum Books which were searched from 1827-36.
Again there is no record of Henry Bright holding the post at either
institution during this time.
It was probably under family pressure that Bright attempted a career
in pharmacy because from his first apprenticeship in Woodbridge
he is said to have spent all his free time sketching. His parents
eventually gave way to this artistic ambition for apparently they
transferred his indentures to Alfred Stannard (1806-1889) the younger
brother of Joseph. At this point we have the first documentary evidence
of Bright's early life in Norwich, he writes in later life this
peevish and arrogant letter to Stannard:
I chanced to be walking with Mr. Lound near Bracondale I met
you and your young ladies. I touched my hat to you, you must have
known me but did not condescend to notice me. I felt annoyed for
a moment only, feeling to be, as I am, independent of the whole
world, thanks to my industry and good fortunes, and I never seek
any man; I must say I derived much of the pleasure of my earlier
years with you, and I am truly sorry that from some cause you have
not had the good feeling to give an old acquaintance a look. nevertheless
I may have the power to serve you. I know, and have as intimate
friends many of the most wealthy collectors in England. I may see
you some day. I am dear Mr. Stannard, Yours faithfully, Henry Bright.
Alfred Stannard Esq.
The letter is undated
but was probably written in the late 1840s when Bright's popularity
was established and Alfred Stannard's daughters, Eloise, Adelaide
and Isabella were all under 21 years. Years later in another letter
to W.P.B. Freeman dated 17th August 1870, from the Great White Horse
Hotel, Ipswich, Bright expresses nostalgia for the 'Ancient City';
. . . I have a great
wish to live once more in Norwich I spent many happy years there
plenty of good "grub" to be bought, fish and other nice
things. . .
As well as being Alfred
Stannard's apprentice Bright is traditionally said to have taken
lessons from John Berney Crome (1794-1842) and John Sell Cotman
(1782-1842) both of whom played a prominent role in the Norwich
Society of Artists. They were also Stewards at the gatherings of
the Norwich Artists Conversazione for which there are manuscript
lists of members attending in 1830 and 1831. Bright is not included
but he may have attended as a guest and met there three members
who were the amateur artists, Thomas Lound (1802-1861), Robert Leman
(1799-1863) and William Philip Barnes Freeman (1813-1897). We know
from the evidence of manuscript letters from 1850 to 1870 that Bright
developed close friendships with Lound and Freeman and according
to his biographers went on sketching tours with Leman. Whilst he
was in Norwich Bright most likely took lodgings as there is no record
of him in either the directories or poll books.
In 1833 or before he had
returned to his home town of Saxmundham, because on the 2nd May
he took out a licence to marry Eliza Brightley, also of Saxmundham.
She was under age but Bright had the consent of her guardian Samuel
Brightley and on the 8th May 1833 the couple were married in Saxmundham
Parish Church. The witnesses were Lewis and Harriet Brightley; Lewis
may have been Eliza's brother who according to the church register
died aged 40 years in 1841. He was probably a bookseller in Saxmundham,
the trade under which his widow Celia is listed in White's Directory
1844. After his marriage Bright may have lived in Saxmundham either
with his parents or his elder brother Jerome Denny; in the subscribers'
list of R. Green's Framlingham and Saxted 1834 he is listed
as 'Bright, Mr Henry, Saxmundham'.
At the onset of his career he could not have been in a very happy
financial position. It may have been on his marriage that he received
help from his brother Jerome Denny who according to their father's
will and at his request had advanced 'divers Sums of Money amounting
in the whole to the said Henry Bright to the Sum of Two Hundred
and seventy five Pounds'. Jerome may also have helped Bright when
he moved to London to 12 Spring Terrace, Paddington, in 1836.
[Bright lived in the London area for
about 20 years, painting, exhibiting and teaching watercolour painting
While in London Bright is said to have had two sons and two daughters
of which the latter only survived. One of his sons may have been
Jerome Richard Bryant Bright of London who died aged 6 years and
was buried at Saxmundham Church on 26th July 1844. Nothing further
is known of his sons but both his daughters were still living in
1850 as Bright refers to them in a letter to Henry Lound of that
date. A few details are known only of Fanny Susannah who was living
in London with her ten year old son in 1873. The prospect of a bequest
from his father may have also prompted Bright's move to perhaps
a more desirable residence. Jerome Bright's will is dated 5th January
1846, he died on the 16th July and the will was proved on 19th August
1846. The bulk of the real estate was bequeathed to the eldest son
Jerome Denny Bright and the personal estate of about £4,500
equally divided in trust between four of Jerome's children and two
grandchildren. Henry Bright must have received about £500
having repaid his brother's loan of £275.
By August 1848 Bright had moved again, to Grove Cottage, Ealing,
for it was at this address that his wife Eliza died aged 34 years
on the 24th August 1848. The cause of her sudden death is given
on the death certificate as pulmonary disease. However Bright remained
in Ealing until at least 1850 but by 1854 he moved to St John's
Wood, London. He writes from Ealing to W P B Freeman on the 9th
I have been in a dreadful confusion from an accident to the
drains under my house here, and am obliged to fly for my life as
we are poisoned with 'Stink'. I went to London and have taken at
once a pretty villa at St. John's Wood Road. 'I lived in a cab'
for 3 days in finding a nice house up . . . Dont say anything to
JM, I am going to move to London I want to surprise him. . .
He continued to live in St John's Wood until ill health forced
him to move with his daughters in 1858 to his brother's house Park
Lodge, Saxmundham. This was probably at some time between March
and July for he writes from Saxmundham to Edward Harper enclosing
an account with a date of 11th March 1858:
. . . myself and daughters are here for sometime. I have a capital
painting room and we all enjoy the peace and comfort of my brother's
pretty place here. . . I have, as I told you been long out of health.
I am now fast recovering my vigour again and painting after many
weeks distressing idleness. . .
In a further letter to Harper dated July 21st he vows he will never
again return to London to live.
Our knowledge of Bright's movements after he left London in 1858
is derived largely from his letters to Edward Harper in the Hove
Correspondence and to William Philip Barnes Freeman in the Reeve
Collection and the Freeman MSS. He let his house in St John's Wood
to William Grapel, a barrister, for £120 a year but continued
to visit London, staying at the Prince of Wales Hotel, Paddington,
to attend to business and to see exhibitions. Although he stated
to Harper in a letter of 21st July 1858 from Saxmundham that he
intended to settle there, Bright in fact moved to Surrey in October
I am arrived in London. . . on Monday we move to 'Penryhn House'
Redhill Surrey on the Brighton line. . . I have a capital house
there and fine painting room. . .
Living nearby was John Linnell who had moved to Reigate in 1852
and continued to live there for 30 years, but they may not have
become acquainted because Bright probably stayed at Redhill only
a few years and during that time he spent many weeks in London and
probably also in Norwich. About ten years earlier, around 1850,
he was certainly in Norwich on several occasions. There is a letter
to W P B Freeman dated 2nd February 1850 in which he writes:
. . . I do hope if
you are coming to London before I come to Norwich you will run down
here and dine with me . . .
and an undated letter to Mr Stannard (probably Alfred Stannard),
Hill House, Bishop Bridge, Norwich, probably dates from this period.
It seems likely that he continued to visit Norwich; in 1861, after
the death of Thomas Lound, Bright writes to Freeman from Redhill
asking for a catalogue of Lound's Sale and also:
. . .Can you tell me
if I could get a nice little painting room for the month of April
this year. I want to stay in Norwich if possible that month. Do
you know of one and how much pr. week? northeast or North West light
or north. . .
From 1862 to 1870 it becomes more
difficult to trace Bright's movements as there are few letters or
exhibited works and his address was seldom given in the catalogues.
A letter to Freeman of 30th March 1862 is written from Evans Covent
Garden Hotel, London. In it Bright writes of his intention to live
near Freeman's sister Mrs Ackerman but subsequent letters suggest
that he just had a studio nearby (Blenheim Terrace, St John's Wood)
and continued to stay at the hotel. In any case this was just a
temporary address because in another letter to W H Freeman from
Evans Hotel Bright writes of sending letters from his house at Redhill.
He may have moved from Redhill by 1865. He gives his address as
26, Moore-park-road Fulham in the exhibition catalogue of the Society
of British Artists 1867. He seems also to have had some connection
at that time with Maidstone, Kent, where the museum has a collection
of large chalk drawings by him and their catalogue of 1909 states
that Bright lived in Maidstone for many years. The Kent Directories
were searched for the period 1839-1874 but no record of Henry Bright
was found. He was certainly at Maidstone in the winter of 1865 as
there are two inscribed and dated drawings, one of which At
Boxley Hill near Maidstone Kent was included in the Bright
Centenary Exhibition (Supplement of Loans no. 17), but these could
have been the result of a visit rather than being an indication
of his residence there.
According to his obituaries
in The Norwich Mercury and the Norfolk Chronicle
Bright had lived in Ipswich since 1868. We know that he was involved
much earlier in artistic activities there because he was one of
the Vice-Presidents of the Suffolk Fine Art Association which held
its first exhibition in the Lecture Hall at Ipswich in 1850, antedating
those of the Ipswich Fine Art Club by twenty five years. No set
of the Association's catalogues has been located but notices and
reviews were published by the Ipswich Journal. Bright's
contribution to the 3rd Annual exhibition of the Association in
1852 received the highest praise from the Journal's reviewer
whose 'unlimited admiration' of two 'magnificent drawings in Crayon'
drew attention to Bright's 'mastery of material', 'long and accurate
study of nature in her various phases' and the 'truth and grandeur'
of the two works exhibited A Lake Scene and A Rocky
Coast, nos. 249 and 257. A later article in the East Anglian
Daily Times refers to Bright and to other Vice-Presidents of
the Association 'Two of the Bunbury Family. . . Charles Austin,
Capt. Brooke' and to the exhibitors who included the Suffolk artists
Thomas Churchyard, Henry Davy and the Norwich School painters J
B Ladbrooke and John Joseph Cotman. In the 1869 Royal Academy catalogue
Bright's address is given as the Windham Club, St. Jame's Square,
this was probably temporary because he writes to Freeman from the
Great White Horse Hotel, Ipswich, on 17th August 1870. Evidently
he was not happy with the company there:
. . . in confidence between ourselves I shall come and live
in Norwich I have no people here of my kin to talk to, it is all
drinking and sleeping 'no flow of soul' they are all ranters and
methodists so Christian? as to hate one another with a sort of relish.
However ill health forced him to remain in Ipswich and by 2nd October
1870 he was living at the house of his niece, Mrs E B Jackson of
Anglesea Road, and writes to Freeman:
. . . Dont look out for any lodgings now I shall not move till
Winter is over as I have been so ill and can be nursed at my nieces.
The last letter we have from Bright is an affectionate note of
21st December 1870 to his grandson Henry, son of his daughter Fanny
Susannah Millar, but other letters may come to light for he continued
working until his death. He exhibited for the last time in Norwich
in 1871, the year in which, on 14th April, his brother Jerome Denny
Bright died in Saxmundham, and there are also dated drawings. A
Freeman from Bright's niece confirms this:
About five or six weeks before his death he finished a very
large picture it took him longer to get through a picture latterly,
as he only worked when he felt in the Spirit, or he used to say
it would not be worthy of 'H. Bright'. He was always receiving fresh
commissions and had enough work before him to have lasted over ten
or twelve years. . .
He died after months of
illness on 21st September 1873 and was buried in Ipswich Cemetery.
His obituary appeared first in the Suffolk Chronicle and
was followed by others in the Norwich papers, the Illustrated
London News and The Art Journal. It does not seem
likely that Henry Bright would have died intestate yet his will
is not listed in the Probate Registry at Somerset House. As the
family were nonconformist a further search in other sources might
prove fruitful. Bright's Studio Sale of over 200 lots was held on
behalf of his daughter by Christie's on 22nd May 1874.
It has already been observed that Henry Bright was a popular and
successful artist during his lifetime and this is supported by his
own statement of 1870:
I seldom exhibit I can sell all I do at a good price.
and by The Art Journal's
The death of this excellent landscape-painter occurred at Ipswlch
on the 21st of
September. . . The subjects of Mr. Bright's pictures are very varied,
but his manner of treating all shows great originality and a high
degree of self-possession, while his manipulation is most broad
and masterly, and his colouring rich and deep. With us his most
attractive subjects are the banks of a stream, or a river, sometimes
with a mill situated on them, and sometimes a group of noble trees,
telling against a sky brilliant with the rising or setting sun.
His snow-scenes are also most faithfully and skilfully represented.
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