Born in London, Fred Britton won a scholarship to the Slade School in 1908. On arrival in Australia, he became a teacher at the South Australian School of Arts and Crafts in 1911. After his appointment as assistant official artist in France in World War I, he returned to Adelaide and became the Principal of the School of Fine Art, where a number of important artists including Horace Trenerry, D'Auvergne Boxall, John Goodchild and George Whinnen had lessons. Later he went to Sydney and after working with Smith and Julius (Ure Smith's firm), he became a teacher at the East Sydney Technical College.
A scientific draughtsman, Britton produced accurate drawings and etchings, with clean, firm lines denoting his mastery of technique.
The custom of presenting the opener of an exhibition with one of the artist's works could have resulted in a member of the Barr Smith family receiving this painting, which, in turn, would have been passed on to Ursula Hayward.
GUM TREES, 1923, is one of Britton's technically competent, small delicate etchings. Recorded without any emotional comment, this honest and sound work of sapling gum trees depicts the exact observations of the artist.