Henry Gritten

Born: 1818

Died: 1873

Painter and professional photographer, son of Henry Gritten, a London picture dealer, began to paint when he was fourteen years old. His obituary in the Argusclaimed he was acquainted with the painters David Roberts, Clarkson Stanfield and Sir Edwin Landseer and ‘enjoyed the favour of Prince Albert, the Duke of Norfolk and the Marquis of Westminster’. He certainly exhibited prolifically in London, showing sixty-two oil and watercolour paintings at the Royal Academy, the British Institute, the Society of British Artists (Suffolk Street) and various other exhibitions between 1835 and 1849. His subjects included townscape and landscape views in Northern France, London and other parts of England, seascapes and historic subjects as well as views painted in the Rhine and Moselle River valleys.
Extending his travels, Gritten moved to New York in 1850. He lived in both Brooklyn and Manhattan and exhibited with the National Academy of Design. Paintings from this period were shown at Melbourne in 1853, the year Gritten arrived from New York. They included views of Brattlebrough, Vermont and the Catskill Mountains on the Hudson. On arrival Gritten immediately went to the Bendigo diggings, but soon returned to Melbourne. By February 1854 he was offering to give lessons in painting and drawing in Sydney. He also married Charlotte Sims there. Surviving Sydney works include two watercolour views, The Harbour of Sydney from Harbour View Hotel and the unfinished Sydney Harbour from Harbour View Hotel, Showing West Side of Dawes Point (both 1854, ML) and oils of the Harbour dated 1855 (NGV), 1856 (Deutscher-Menzies, Australian and International Paintings, Sculpture and Works on Paper , Melbourne 22 November 1998, lot 278) and 1857 (Christie’s Melbourne 28 April 1992, lot 185). His view of Kiama, Illawarra, NSW (1860, o/c, NLA) was painted from a sketch that Robert Hoddle made in 1830.

Then Gritten went via Melbourne to Hobart Town. His Tasmanian paintings include several versions of the view of Hobart Town and Mount Wellington from Belle Rive. According to the Hobart Town Advertiser of 26 June 1858, his large oil painting of Hobart was (inexplicably) rejected by the organisers of the Hobart Town Art-Treasures Exhibition. He seems to have set up a photographic studio at Campbell Town in 1860. In 1862-63 he was living in Launceston where, it was later said, he again took photographs (none is known). The Launceston Examiner of 8 July 1862 commented on the paintings he simultaneously exhibited in his studio and selected a forest view of Brazil as the best. He was listed as a ‘landscape and architectural painter’ of St John Street, Launceston in Walch’s Tasmanian Almanac for 1863.

Later in 1863 Gritten was back in Melbourne. Several of his Melbourne views were lithographed for Troedel ‘s Melbourne Album of 1864. An article in the Illustrated Melbourne Post of 22 December 1864 entitled ‘The Fine Arts in Victoria’ mentioned Gritten’s entry in the competition for a prize of £200 being offered by the Melbourne Public Library and Fine Arts Committee for the best painting on an Australian theme, the entries then being on display. Gritten had entered a view of Melbourne from the Botanical Gardens (at least two large watercolours of the subject exist, one dated 1864, the other 1865 (offered by Christie’s in April 1998, lot 52, and again by Christie’s Melbourne on 6-7 May 2003, lot 129). Only the winning painting, Nicholas Chevalier ‘s Buffalo Ranges , became part of the national collection, but in 1866 Archibald Michie presented the National Gallery of Victoria with Gritten’s View on Jackson’s Creek , that he had purchased with his pension as former minister of justice in the Legislative Assembly. Five of Gritten’s paintings were included in a Launceston art union that same year.
Gritten, a founding member of the Victorian Academy of Arts, showed three oils at the first exhibition in 1870: Melbourne from the Botanic Gardens (purchased by surveyor Robert Hoddle – possibly the 1865 version), Brighton Beach and Andermach on the Rhine . The Smugglers’ Cave and its companion piece, The Last Effort , were shown at Melbourne in 1872 as part of Victoria’s collection to be sent to the 1873 London International Exhibition. By then Gritten was no longer in Victoria. In 1871 he had written a sad letter resigning from the VAA and complaining of poor health and poverty. In a postscript he added that his two entries in that year’s exhibition had been removed from the line and hung out of sight. He and his family returned to St John Street, Launceston. Gritten died there on 15 January 1873, following an epileptic fit, leaving his widow and four children in near destitution.
Extract from Australian Dictionary of Biography
Phipps, Jennifer 1992