Henry Bright (1810-1873) was born in Saxmundham, Suffolk, the third son of nine children. He was apprenticed by his family to a chemist in Woodbridge, Suffolk, transferred to a Norwich chemist, becoming a dispenser at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital. He is said to have spent all his free time sketching and was introduced to local artists, becoming a pupil of Alfred Stannard. He is also said to have been trained by John Berney Crome and John Sell Cotman, both of whom were members of the Norwich Society of Artists.
He married Eliza Brightley in Saxmundham in 1833. Two sons died in childhood; two daughters survived. The family moved to Paddington, London, in 1836. Bright's first major exhibition was at the British Institution, London, in 1836. He became a member of the New Society of Painters in Watercolours in 1839, where he exhibited until 1844. He exhibited nine oils at the Royal Academy between 1843 and 1850. However, he was not very prolific as an exhibitor. The reason for this may perhaps be found in a comment he made in 1870: ‘I seldom exhibit - I can sell all I do at a good price.’
Bright painted in various locations in England, Scotland, Wales and across Europe (Netherlands, France, Germany, Prussia), working in oils, watercolour, chalk and pencil and was adept at recording a range of landscapes during his extensive travels. During a few of these sketching expeditions he was accompanied by J M W Turner, with whom he had struck up a friendship. Bright's work was also highly regarded by John Ruskin.
Bright developed friendships with other leading artists, including Samuel Prout, Henry Jutsum, David Cox, George Lance, William Collingwood Smith, William Leighton Leitch and James Duffield Harding. His use of chalk and stump on buff paper is similar to that of Robert Leman, while John Middleton strongly influenced his use of watercolour. He was influenced by Harding's oil and pencil technique and, like him, issued a number of drawing-books in the 1840s (Bright’s Drawing Book and Bright’s Graduated Tint Studies). His name was also associated with the manufacture of coloured crayons (Bright’s Superior Coloured Crayons). He inherited Harding’s extensive teaching practice and had many royal and aristocratic pupils, many of whom became his patrons.
In 1844 Queen Victoria purchased Bright's Entrance to an Old Prussian Town (London, Royal Collection) from the New Society of Painters in Watercolours. He also received several commissions from the Grand Duchess Marie of Russia and it was through her patronage that Bright came to Arran during the 1850s and 1860s, staying at Brodick Castle and creating numerous drawings and watercolours.
His professional success extended to working collaboratively with other artists, including John Frederick Herring, William Shayer, Francis Grant and Charles and Edwin Landseer. Throughout his career in London, Bright continued to maintain links with the artists of the Norwich School of painters.
His wife, Eliza, died in 1848. Bright left London in 1858 because of his own health reasons and settled with his daughters in his brother's house in Saxmundham. He continued to visit London for business reasons and to view exhibitions.
He died in Ipswich in 1873. At the time of his death he was said to have enough commissions to last him for ten or twelve years.
His work is represented in numerous public collections, including Colchester & Ipswich Museums Service, Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery and York Art Gallery. Other examples of his work are in the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, Tate Britain and The Courtauld Institute Galleries in London, the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, the Maidstone Museum in Kent, the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh and the Royal Collection at Osborne House, as well as the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.
His work continues to be sold at auction houses today. There are 11 letters regarding pictures by Bright ‘desired by Thomas Miller’ held in the Royal Academy archives, dated 1847-1849. ‘Landscape with Lake and mountains’, graphite on paper, 200 × 326 mm, date unknown, is held in the Prints and Drawings Rooms of the Tate gallery, purchased in 1996 as part of the Oppé Collection with assistance from the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund.
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