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.
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:
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. . .
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).
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):
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:
THIS PLACE LIES MARY THE WIFE OF J.D. BRIGHT OF SAXM SHE DIED OCTR
21ST 1825 AGED 29 YEARS
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:
Bright the son of Jerome and Susan Bright of the Parish of Saxmundham
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.
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:
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. . .
must have been situated at North Entrance as Thurlow describes his
birthplace in a house at North Entrance, Saxmundham, and mentions
the school opposite:
the other side I sketch and note the spot where I was born the school,
the old Blacksmith Shop.
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.
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.
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:
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
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
. 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 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.
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
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.
lived in the London area for about 20 years, painting, exhibiting
and teaching watercolour painting and drawing.]
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.
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:
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. . .
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.
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:
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. . .
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 . . .
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.
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.
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. .
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:
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. . .
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.
already been observed that Henry Bright was a popular and successful
artist during his lifetime and this is supported by his own statement
exhibit I can sell all I do at a good price.
The Art Journal's obituary notice:
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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