Palmer Museum of Art acquires rare and important work by Grafton Tyler Brown

March 09, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The Palmer Museum of Art at Penn State has announced the purchase of the 1889 painting "Hot Springs at Yellowstone" by the artist Grafton Tyler Brown (1841–1918). Born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to free Black parents, Brown went on to become known for his landscape paintings of Western subjects.

“Nineteenth-century landscape paintings by African American artists are exceedingly rare,” said Erin M. Coe, director of the Palmer Museum of Art. “This work is the first by an African American artist of the era to enter the museum’s collection.”

Brown spent his early childhood in Pennsylvania after his parents relocated from the slave-holding state of Maryland in 1837. As a teenager, he moved to California and worked for a noted lithographer in San Francisco. He took over the business in 1865 and renamed it G. T. Brown & Co. The business prospered, producing city views, maps and billheads throughout the 1860s and 1870s until Brown sold the company in 1878. Without any formal training, he turned to landscape painting in the 1880s and began making art and traveling the northwest through Victoria, British Columbia; Tacoma, Washington; Portland, Oregon; and Helena, Montana, finally settling in St. Paul, Minnesota, by 1893. 

Brown is perhaps best known for his striking and detailed depictions of the natural wonders of Yellowstone National Park. Established in 1872, Yellowstone was a favorite subject of his, and he completed more than two dozen known paintings of its majestic, at times enigmatic, terrain between 1886 and 1891. "Hot Springs at Yellowstone," which dates from a key period in Brown’s career, is a wonderfully vivid depiction of the stepped and striated rock formations there, charismatically capturing the almost otherworldly quality of the region’s distinctive hydrothermal pools.

“Brown seemed to always find something new at Yellowstone, to always render familiar pools and geysers and canyons with a fresh eye,” said Adam Thomas, curator of American art at the Palmer Museum. “'Hot Springs at Yellowstone' is very likely the first painting by Brown in a public collection in his home state, making the acquisition all the more momentous.”

This landmark acquisition is part of the Palmer Museum’s strategic plan to enhance diversity and representation in the collection. Visitors to the Palmer can view the newly acquired painting by Brown on the first floor of the museum in the Snowiss Galleries of American Art.

Free timed tickets can be reserved through the Palmer Museum website to visit 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays; and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays, with the last timed ticket reservation at 4:30 p.m. for half an hour. The museum is closed Mondays, Tuesdays and some holidays.

About the Palmer Museum of Art

The Palmer Museum of Art on Penn State's University Park campus is a free-admission arts resource for the University and surrounding communities in central Pennsylvania. With a collection of 10,000 objects representing a variety of cultures and spanning centuries of art, the Palmer is the largest art museum between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Areas of strength include the museum’s collection of American art from the late 18th century to the present, Old Master paintings, prints and photography, ceramics and studio glass, and a growing collection of modern and contemporary art. The museum presents nine exhibitions each year and, with 11 galleries, a print-study room, a 150-seat auditorium, and an outdoor sculpture garden, the Palmer Museum of Art is the leading cultural resource for the region.

The Palmer receives state arts funding support through a grant from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, a state agency funded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and from the Happy Valley Adventure Bureau.

For more information on the Palmer Museum of Art or for the calendar of upcoming events, visit palmermuseum.psu.edu.

About the new University Art Museum at Penn State 

Penn State and the Palmer Museum of Art are planning to construct a new University Art Museum located in The Arboretum at Penn State. With nearly twice the exhibition space of the Palmer, new classroom spaces and a teaching gallery, flexible event spaces, and on-site parking, this building would dramatically enhance the museum’s capacity to offer educational and enrichment opportunities for visitors of all ages. It would be integrated with the Arboretum, inspiring collaboration and creating a unique nexus of art, architecture and natural beauty. Like the Palmer Museum of Art before it, it will depend upon visionary philanthropy from the Penn State community. Learn more at artmuseum.psu.edu.

Last Updated April 15, 2021