Henry Bright (Saxmundham 1814 - Ipswich 1873)

A Highland Croft

signed ‘H Bright’ (lower left)
oil on canvas
60 x 109 cm (23⅝ x 42⅞ in)


The elemental beauty of this scene and the stark positioning of a solitary crofter gazing out over the highlands create a sense of infinite vastness. The harmonious simplicity of the crofter’s life is apparent in the integration of nature and mankind demonstrated by the water pump by the side of his cottage, next to a clear stream. The croft itself is camouflaged by the natural landscape, its thatch and stone work blending into the surroundings seamlessly. From the gentle, creamy lighting, it appears to be early evening, as a flock of birds swoop and fade into the distance and a thin plume of silver smoke rises from a fire that has only just been laid. Henry Bright evidently favoured depicting the Scottish highlands, see both View in the Isle of Arran (Private Collection) and Scene in the Scottish Highlands, Afternoon Effect, (Private Collection) provide interesting comparisons to the present painting.

Scene in the Scottish Highlands, Afternoon Effect is traditionally thought to show a landscape in the Cairngorms in the Scottish Highlands, which in Gaelic translates as ‘The Blue Hills’. These granite hills with deep valleys traditionally attracted artists in the nineteenth century seeking to paint breathtakingly dramatic views. It is possible that the same geographical region is represented in A Highland Croft.

Born in Suffolk to Jerome Bright, a local clockmaker, Bright is thought to have taken lessons in Norwich from John Berney Crome (1794-1842) and was later apprenticed to the artist Alfred Stannard (1806-1889). He moved to London in 1836 where he would remain for some twenty years, though he maintained close links with the Norwich school as many of his letters show. In one, he writes to a Mr. Freeman asking whether, ‘...I [sic] 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...’

Bright became a member of the New Society of Painters in Watercolours in 1839, where he exhibited until 1844. Although his obituary in the Art Journal (November 1873, p. 327) states that he did not exhibit oils until the Royal Academy exhibition of 1845, this is not certain. During this period he developed friendships with leading artists, including Samuel Prout and James Duffield Harding. Testament to his artistic ability and success was confirmed when in 1844, Queen Victoria purchased Bright’s Entrance to an Old Prussian Town (Royal Collection, London). Further professional successes saw him collaborate on landscape backgrounds with other artists including John Frederick Herring Senior (1795-1865).