GRAFTON TYLER BROWN (1841 - 1918) Mallard Ducks of Montana.
Oil on linen canvas, 1889. 762x457 mm; 30x18 inches. Signed and dated "'89" in oil, lower left recto. Signed, titled and dated in pencil, lower left and right verso.
Provenance: private collection, Connecticut.
This unusual trompe-l'oeil painting by Grafton Tyler Brown, the first African-American landscape painter active in the American West, is a very scarce example of his painting in this genre. We have located only one other such trompe-l'oeil painting - Brown's Trout, 1886, in the collection of the Kalamazoo Art Institute, acquired recently in 2012. Painted against a similar wood grain background, these mallard ducks not only represent a hunter's trophy from the Montana wilderness of lakes and river valleys but are a tour-de-force of an artist's skill.
Grafton Tyler Brown was born in Harrisburg, PA to a family of freed slaves from Maryland; the family moved to San Francisco in 1855. Brown worked for the lithography firm of Kuchel & Dresel, where he specialized in drawing maps and bird's-eye views of cities and towns in Nevada and California. After the owners' death, Brown purchased the firm, renaming it G.T. Brown & Co, but he sold the business in 1879 in order to devote his time to painting. He moved to Victoria, BC, joining the Canadian government's geological survey of the Cascade Mountains and exhibiting his works there in 1883. The following year he moved again, this time to Washington, where he frequently painted Mt. Rainier. From 1886 to 1889, the artist had a studio and home in Portland, OR, where he was a member of the Portland Art Club. But by 1892, Brown was on the move again, relocating to St. Paul, MN, where he remained until his death in 1918. Today, his paintings are found in the collections of museums throughout the United States, including the Smithsonian American Museum of Art and the National Museum of African-American History and Culture, Washington, DC.