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    Grafton Tyler Brown (American, 1841-1918)
    Castle Geyser, Yellowstone National Park, 1891
    Oil on canvas laid on board
    20 x 14 inches (50.8 x 35.6 cm)
    Signed and dated lower left: GT Brown 91-
    Titled on the reverse: Castle Geyser, / Yellowstone Nat. Park

    The artist;
    Private collection, acquired from the above, circa 1895;
    By descent to the present owner.

    By the time Grafton Tyler Brown arrived in Yellowstone in 1886 to paint its natural wonders, he had already spent a long and illustrious career in California as a lithographer. He had moved with his family from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to Sacramento in 1858, and quickly became the first African-American to meet success as a western artist. His first job in San Francisco in 1861 with the noted lithographer Charles Conrad Kuchel secured him varied commissions, from everyday bank checks, bonds, and diplomas, to elaborate bird's-eye views of cities and towns. When Kuchel died in 1864, Brown bought his business renaming it G.T. Brown & Co. and for the next fifteen years specialized in printing maps, mining certificates, and letterhead and invoices for local companies, such as Levi Strauss & Co. and Ghirardelli Chocolate Company.

    Brown had an uncanny gift for recognizing when a particular market was saturated and with the economic depression of 1878, he sold his lithography company and took up plein air landscape painting, settling every few years in a different part of the Pacific Northwest. From 1882-84, he documented the local scenery of Victoria, British Columbia and participated in the Amos Bowman Geological Survey, which afforded him access to the Cascade Mountains; from 1884-85, he lived in Tacoma, Washington, and painted majestic Mount Rainier; and from 1885-88, he became the toast of Portland, Oregon, joining the city's famous Art Club and selling landscapes of Mount Hood. In 1889, Brown moved to Helena, Montana to entice the city's wealthy mining community with paintings of his most popular subject yet, Yellowstone National Park.

    Like his muses, Thomas Moran and Albert Bierstadt, Brown was drawn to Yellowstone by the Northern Pacific Railroad and memorialized the park's spectacular sites through sketches, prints, and paintings. He made his first trip there in 1886 and soon after published two foldable pocket catalogues for tourists, collectively titled Outline Diagram of Sketches in Oil Taken by G.T. Brown, at Yellowstone National Park, 1886: The first, in 13 scenes, features the east side of the park with its breathtaking canyon, and the second, in 15 scenes, the west side of the park with its otherworldly geysers. Brown's Yellowstone paintings, which sold for upwards of $100, were known for their detailed accuracy, special attention to rock formations, and vivid yellow-orange-tan palette. His most popular subjects included the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Old Faithful, Castle Geyser, Sulphur Caldron, and the Lower Falls. Brown advertised his paintings to the Portland and Helena markets as "careful studies from nature," "only painted to order, and not found on sale anywhere," and he displayed them in the art gallery of the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel (R. Chandler, San Francisco Lithographer: African American Artist Grafton Tyler Brown, Norman Oklahoma, 2014, p. 178). Brown painted Yellowstone more than any other subject in his career and even incorporated an image of Old Faithful into his letterhead design.

    Brown's Yellowstone paintings rarely come up for auction, and Castle Geyser, Yellowstone National Park is a superb example, showing his taste for both realism and drama. The foreground of the composition, with its bubbling geothermal pool and striated rock, provides a strong foundation for Castle Geyser - the park's oldest active geyser, so named for its "turrets" and "crenellated" edges - which spews a column of water and steam into the early morning sky. Brown carefully balances the horizontal lines of the orange-pink ground and blue mountains with the vertical lines of the water jet and background pine trees, as well as the hard lines of rock formations with the painterly softness of the steam clouds. The painting is also noteworthy in that it has remained in the same family for over 100 years. While working for the Army Corps of Engineers in St. Paul, Minnesota, in the mid-1890s, Brown had befriended the consignor's grandfather, Charles Alpha Hunt, a civil engineer for the Great Northern Railway.

    Condition Report*: There appears to be light overall surface grime; small surface scratch near center left edge; minor frame wear with evidence of rubbing and abrasions, most notably along top edge; verso of canvas covered board shows evidence of water damage; under UV exam, there appears to be no previous restoration. Framed Dimensions 23.5 X 17.5 Inches
    *Heritage Auctions strives to provide as much information as possible but encourages in-person inspection by bidders. Statements regarding the condition of objects are only for general guidance and should not be relied upon as complete statements of fact, and do not constitute a representation, warranty or assumption of liability by Heritage. Some condition issues may not be noted in the condition report but are apparent in the provided photos which are considered part of the condition report. Please note that we do not de-frame lots estimated at $1,000 or less and may not be able to provide additional details for lots valued under $500. All lots are sold "AS IS" under the Terms & Conditions of Auction.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    May, 2016
    7th Saturday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 7
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
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