Date of birth: 11 May 1883
Place of birth: Enmore, NSW, Australia
Date of death: 22 January 1937
Place of death: Manly, NSW, Australia
Born in Enmore, Sydney, Charles David Jones Bryant grew up in the beachside suburb of Manly, where he developed a fondness for the ocean and was a keen surfer and sailor. Bryant attended Sydney Grammar School and began a career as a clerk at the Bank of New South Wales (NSW), also studying art under W. Lister Lister and exhibiting with the Royal Art Society of NSW. In 1908 he travelled to London, first receiving instruction from John Hassell, then studying marine painting under seascape painter Julius Olsson RA at St. Ives in Cornwall. From early in his career he was interested in depicting coastal scenes and maritime subjects, once stating “I’m only happy when I am on the sea or near it”. Bryant also worked as an illustrator, as with the Cassell & Co. Publication, Our ships, as well as exhibiting at the Royal Academy and in the Paris Salons.
In November 1917, he was appointed an official war artist, and formally enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) on 4 December 1917 with the rank of honorary lieutenant. Eight days later, he travelled to Messines in Belgium attached to the 2nd Division of the AIF. He wrote to Captain H.C. Smart, “I am feeling very fit but conditions for painting are very bad owing to the extreme cold – paint freezing all the time”. The first month of his appointment was further hindered, as the bulk of his painting materials did not arrived until 15 January 1918. Yet, he persevered and managed several pictures before moving to the Western Front in France in early 1918, completing sketches and small paintings of bomb damaged villages and landscapes.
Bryant's appointment was particularly influenced by his reputation as a marine painter and he was requested by the AIF to illustrate the embarkation and disembarkation of Australian troops at Le Havre and Boulogne. In several paintings, he shows the ‘dazzle’ camouflaged hospital ships docked at busy ports, waiting to transport the seriously wounded back to England. Bryant’s initial appointment of three months was regularly extended, terminated after the end of the war on 12 December 1918.
Bryant was then commissioned to paint the 1914 departure of the first contingent of the AIF and the New Zealand Expeditionary Force from Albany, Western Australia. He returned to Australia in 1921 and two years later was commissioned by the Australian War Memorial to paint works relating to the 1914 occupation of German New Guinea by Australian troops. Based in the coastal town of Rabaul, Bryant produced numerous intimate colourful images of the region that clearly show the presence of the Commonwealth, while retaining a strong sense of the serene atmosphere of sea, coastline and landscape.
Bryant was a founder of the Manly Art Gallery in 1924 and in 1929 vice president of the Royal Art Society of NSW. He continued to exhibit his works in Australia. Following a short illness, Bryant died in Sydney on 22 January 1937.