Henry Gritten is considered one of Australia’s leading colonial artists. During his lifetime, he was relatively unknown in Australia. He died in poverty in 1873 leaving behind a wife and 4 children. Following his death, his friends raised enough money to pay off some of his outstanding debts.
Unfortunately, there was no money left over for a headstone. For 146 years, he and his wife have rested in an unmarked grave. On the 7th of September, 2019 a memorial stone will be unveiled at his grave at Melbourne Cemetery.
Globevista has been invited to create a website and to record the events.
Born in London in 1818 Henry C. Gritten developed a love of painting at an early age. This wasn’t surprising, as his father was a well known London art dealer with a gallery near Trafalgar Square. By 17, Gritten’s paintings were being exhibited on the walls of the Royal Academy and then later at the British Institution.
In 1848, the 30-year-old set sail for New York and settled in Brooklyn where he exhibited at the American Art Union and the National Academy of Design. During his four year stay, Gritten was also commissioned to paint views of Springside, a 20 acre landscaped garden by the famed Andrew Jackson Downing. The country estate was owned by Matthew Vassar, the Poughkeepsie brewer, philanthropist, and founder of Vassar College.
Whilst in America, Gritten suffered his first epileptic fit. This would be the start of ill health that would haunt him throughout his life.
In the early 1850s news of a gold rush in Australia reached the distant shores and Gritten saw an opportunity. He set sail from New York to Victoria in 1853 to try his luck. The artist soon realized prospecting was not for him, especially the tedious and exhaustive task of digging. He left the Bendigo digs to resume his painting. During this time he met and married Charlotte Sims.
Gritten and Charlotte would eventually cross the Bass Straits to Tasmania where he continued to paint and experiment with photography. Sadly, there are no known examples of his photographic work from his studios in Hobart and Launceston (St John-Street).
It is fair to say Gritten struggled as an artist in Australia. It wasn’t that his work wasn’t of the highest standard. Moreso it wasn’t truly valued. He often gave painting lessons to supplement what little he earnt from sales of his paintings. He struggled to make ends meet, especially with a wife and four children to feed. No doubt his ill health, due to ongoing fits, would have hindered his success. He often advertised his services in the Melbourne Argus. In his later years, he painted from photographs, as travel for him became increasingly difficult, if not impossible.
Gritten died in 1873 as he sat in front of his easel. An epileptic fit claimed the talented painter well before his prime, at the age of 53.
Little is known of Gritten personally. There are no portraits or images known to exist of him, so he remains somewhat an enigma. The only reference I could find was a brief description in a letter to the editor of The Argus ..” His gentleness, child-like simplicity, and earnest truthfulness could not fail to conciliate those with whom he came in contact.” Signed J.L. Feb 15th, 1873.
When the Melbourne Mayor Sally Capp unveils the Memorial-stone on the 7th of September, 2019, in some way, homage will finally be paid to a man and artist who slipped through the cracks.