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Seattle Art Museum (SAM)

Mitchell's Point Looking down the Columbia

Photo: Nathaniel Willson

Mitchell's Point Looking down the Columbia


Grafton Tyler Brown

born Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 1841; died Nicollet County, Minnesota, 1918

Grafton Tyler Brown was the first African American artist to document California and the Pacific Northwest. The son of a freedman and abolitionist, he joined the initial wave of African American migration to the West in 1858, at the age of seventeen, settling first in Sacramento and then in San Francisco, where he carved a niche for himself as a topographic artist and lithographer. As proprietor of the printing firm G. T. Brown & Company, he produced illustrated books, maps, and bird’s-eye views that documented the boom towns of the mining country of Nevada Territory and California. These editions capture the character and terrain of this region, and they set the stage for Brown’s work as a landscape painter.

Indeed, by 1878, whether because of heightened anti-Black sentiment in California or the toll East Coast monopolies were taking on West Coast small businesses, Brown’s career as a lithographer was on the decline. By 1886, he had moved to Portland and forged a career as a fine artist. Like his counterparts in the Hudson River School, he specialized in panoramic landscapes of the American West, such as this view of the Columbia River flowing past Mitchell’s Point.
Oil on canvas
18 x 30 in. (45.7 x 76.2 cm)
Bruce Leven Acquisition Fund
Provenance: The artist; [private collections]; Steve Turner, Los Angeles, California; [Cowan’s Auction House, The Road West: The Steve Turner Collection of African Americana, Part 1, Feb. 20, 2020, lot no. 97]; purchased at auction by [Allan Kollar Fine Paintings, LLC, Seattle, Washington, 2020]; purchased from gallery by Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, Washington, 2020
Photo: Nathaniel Willson
Now on view at the Seattle Art Museum


Exhibition HistorySeattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, American Art: The Stories We Carry, Oct. 20, 2022 - ongoing.
Published ReferencesRobert J. Chandler. San Francisco Lithographer: African American Artist Grafton Tyler Brown. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2014, p. 218.

Seattle Art Museum respectfully acknowledges that we are on Indigenous land, the traditional territories of the Coast Salish people. We honor our ongoing connection to these communities past, present, and future.

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