Royal BC Museum acquires rare painting from continent’s first professional Black painter

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This is the latest gem in the British Columbia State Museum’s collection of over 10,500 works of art. This is a Victoria Harbor painting by Grafton Tyler Brown in 1883.

The museum is celebrating its acquisition Entrance to the harbor As part of Black History Month. It was one of the few works that Brown lived in the city.

Brown is widely considered to be the first professional black painter in North America.

“As far as we know, Grafton was the first black artist to paint an exhibition here in Victoria and British Columbia,” said India Young, an art and image curator at the British Columbia State Museum. I am saying.

“The interesting thing about Brown is that he really changed his identity during his journey.”

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Brown was born in 1841 in Pennsylvania and moved to Sacramento, California at the age of 17.

According to John Rats, a professor of history at the University of Victoria, he worked there for two years as a hotel keeper until one of his paintings caught the attention of a local newspaper in November 1859.

Brown moved to San Francisco in 1861, where he was hired as an artist and traveled west to paint a panoramic view of the town for sale on a lithograph.

When his employer died in 1864, Lutz wrote that Brown took over the print shop and became one of only 55 lithographers in the United States. “But he was no longer completely black.”


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According to a Lutz study, Grafton, who “inherited the bright colors of his father,” was listed in the San Francisco manufacturer’s directory in 1861 without a “colored” designation. This designation applied to all blacks at the time.

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In the 1880 census, Grafton was listed as “white.”

“The term we are currently using for this is’pass’,” Young explained. “When he came to Victoria, his identity changed, and … he moved as a white man throughout his life.”

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Brown moved to Victoria in 1882, producing more than 60 landscape paintings and sketches in BC. His exhibition in Victoria includes 22 paintings, four of which are currently in the Royal BC Museum. The entrance to the harbor.

“There were other artists who came to Victoria in the 1880s, and there are other great artists in our collection, but to know exactly where this painting is and think about this history. There is something magical about it, “Young said.

This painting was taken from the Uno Langman Art Gallery in Vancouver with the support of the Elizabeth Lite Legacy Foundation. It’s not clear how much was paid for it, but according to Lutz, Brown’s work had previously sold as much as $ 75,000.


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After spending time in British Columbia, Brown lived in Washington, Oregon, Montana, and Minnesota. He married, gave up painting in 1892, quit his job as a draftsman in 1916, and died on March 2, 1918.

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According to Lutz, his death certificate stated that he was “white.”

Young said he would like to expand the museum’s collection of inclusive portraiture paintings of the 19th century BC.

“What I want to do is expand the history of who those people were, including those who were such iconic figures like Grafton Tyler Brown,” she said. ..

— — Using Kylie Stanton’s files

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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