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Henry Bright

The following text is taken from: 'Henry Bright, 1810-1873, Paintings and Drawings in Norwich Castle Museum' by Marjorie Allthorpe-Guyton (© Norfolk Museums Service, 1986), and reproduced by kind permission of Norfolk Museums Service.


Henry Bright

Henry Bright 1810-1873
Early photograph by Charles J Fox, inscribed on the reverse 'H Bright - aged 31 years'.

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:


(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 and drawing.]

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 December:

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.

Later Life

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 1860:

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), from Chalk
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 painting eating,
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 22
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 letter to
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 obituary notice:

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.

Copyright © Norfolk Museums Service 1986. The text here is reproduced by kind permission of Norma Watt, Assistant Keeper of Art, Norwich Castle Study Centre. This text must not be copied or reproduced in any form without the prior written consent of Norfolk Museums Service.

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