G.T. Brown work from 1883 when he spent time on Vancouver Island. A painting of Long Lake

Artists’ rare works sought

A story about the search of several unique works of Canadian art that have been lost to time.

Grafton Tyler Brown worked in B.C. for two years in the 1880s, but many of his works from that time are unaccounted for

Mike Davies

News Gazette Staff

You keep hearing stories about the man who bought a painting at a garage sale for $10 and found out later it was a rare masterpiece, fetching millions at auction, right?

Well, now you have another reason to look twice at some of the original works of art in your house, as you may be in possession of a rare treasure.

If one of those paintings in your basement or on your walls has a signature of “G.T. Brown” or “G.T.B” you may have been staring at an original Grafton Tyler Brown all these years and not been any the wiser.

Well over a century ago, in the 1880s, Brown was acclaimed as the first “professional artist” in B.C. and is also known as the first African American artist in the Pacific Midwest. He spent about two years in B.C. after relocating here from the U.S. and, based on historical documents – such as a newspaper that publicized his first Victoria exhibition and photographs from the time – he produced at least 40 paintings and 24 sketches in B.C. of which we have no knowledge of their whereabouts.

Dr. John Lutz of the department of history at the University of Victoria is trying to track down his B.C. works.

“While many of his American paintings are in major collections and are well known to dealers, his British Columbia images are much rarer and only a few of them are in collections,” according to Lutz’ website devoted to his project of fleshing out the life and art of this interesting historical figure. “The Victoria Art Gallery and Craigdarroch Castle have one each, and the BC Archives (has) four.

A few are known to be in private hands but most are unaccounted for and many are likely hanging in the hallways of British Columbians, or others further afield, all unaware of the stories they tell.”

Lutz says he discovered Brown, as it were, while he was researching pioneers of Saanich as part of his studies into the history of race and racism in Victoria.

“Brown’s art is a window into the world of the 1880s, and if we can find more images and make them accessible, we open that window for anyone interested,” he says. “But Brown is as interesting himself, because his (personal) history of being born black and dying ‘white’ tells us a lot about 19th and even 21st century ideas about race and racism.”

Anyone who would like to know more about the Missing British Columbia paintings of Grafton Tyler Brown project or thinks they might know of a work by the artist, can contact Lutz at

jlutz@uvic.ca.