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 Robert Wadsworth Grafton  (1876 - 1936)

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Lived/Active: Indiana/Illinois/Michigan / England      Known for: portrait, genre, landscape, mural paintings

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Ad Code: 2
Robert Wadsworth Grafton
from Auction House Records.
Wash Day, Vieux Carre Courtyard
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:

Robert Wadsworth Grafton, born in Chicago in 1876, did his studies at the Chicago Academy of Design.  He continued his work at this newly established institution soon to be known as the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.  Later, like many of his colleagues, Grafton traveled to Europe to study at the Académie Julian in Paris. Anxious to expand his art horizons he continued his studies in Holland and England, most likely between 1895 and 1905.  Fine art in Europe was in a state of flux but this was an exciting period in the history of European art.  Post-impressionist developments, including pointillism, neo-impressionism, Symbolism, and the decadent movement, were all flourishing, along with the earliest forms of modernism.  Impressionism had already become old fashioned, aesthetes were advocating “Art for Art’s Sake,” and the academic tradition was severely threatened. Probably while still in Paris, Grafton exhibited in the Salon, which was one common goal of American artists who underwent training abroad.

When Grafton returned to Chicago he joined or renewed his membership with the Palette and Chisel Club, the city’s leading artists’ group.  At that time they met in a large building at 1012 N. Dearborn Street.  Grafton became president of the club  in 1906.  In addition he was active in various Chicago arts organizations, including Chicago Painters and Sculptors, the Chicago Gallery Association and Chicago Artists Guild.  In effect, Grafton’s ambitious career encompassed a great deal of professional activity.  In 1907, while working in the Fine Arts Building, Grafton exhibited a genre painting: After the Leaves Have Gone and two other works, The End of the Village Street and Unloaded.  In 1908 Grafton returned to Holland for a visit.  Three years later, three more of his works were featured at the AIC: Old Dutch Fisherman, a portrait and a painting titled Industrious.  Grafton revisited Paris in 1913 and one of the Dutch scenes was on display in the 1916 Art Institute show, Katwijk Church, then two years later Grafton exhibited five works: Ante Bellum Shipyard, Over the Teacup, Fish Cleaner, George Ade (most likely a portrait), and Wash Day.
Grafton spent several winters in New Orleans, probably 1914-18 when his works are listed in the New Orleans Artists Association catalogues.  For all intents and purposes, his productions from this first New Orleans period are his most valuable.  They reflect the fascinating provinciality of this unique early American port city.  Already a proven master, Grafton executed in New Orleans the work known as The Laundress, during this time. The artist and his friend from Indiana, Louis Oscar Griffith (1875-1956) painted murals in the (third) St. Charles Hotel in 1917.   Grafton painted more murals, for instance, in the Springfield, Illinois State House, at Kansas Wesleyan University, and in the First National Bank, Fort Wayne, Indiana. 

The Thurber Art Galleries in Chicago gave Grafton a one-man show in the 1917-18 season, in which views of New Orleans were included.  Grafton exhibited portraits at the Hoosier Salon between 1925 and 1929.  The 1929 show included his French Market, another identifiable New Orleans scene.  In fact, Grafton was reportedly one of the first organizers of art classes in the highly picturesque and unique French Quarter (Vieux Carré).  Grafton’s paintings are in the following collections: the Delgado Museum, New Orleans, New Orleans Artists Association, at Earlham College and Northwestern University, and in the Art Association of Richmond, Indiana (Lady and the Goldfish Bowl, 1917). Various portraits are housed in the Indiana State Capitol, the Michigan State Capitol, in the agricultural colleges of the University of Wisconsin and Iowa State, and in the American Embassy in Paris. Grafton’s home base was Michigan City, Indiana where he died in 1936.

Submitted by Michael Preston Worley, Ph.D. and Richard H. Love

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following was written and submitted April 2005 by Dr. Melissa Hardie, Hon Curator, WCAA (West Cornwall Art Archive)

We are including Robert Wadsworth Grafton in our to be published dictionary of those artists who worked for some period in West Cornwall (UK Lands End area) because of the warm friendship and respect which the Newlyn Colony of Artists had for this artist and his wife.

The Graftons were here in about 1912, and Mrs Grafton acted as the 'chaperone' of the young Ruth Alison before she became the wife of the distinguished equine and landscape artist Charles Simpson. The Graftons were highly regarded by a number of the Newlyn Colony (Stanhope Forbes, Munnings (later to be President of the Royal Academy) who gave a speech at their leaving dinner (due to a family illness in Mrs Grafton's family).

And the whole of the party-goers accompanied them to the Railway Station amidst much 'fuss' to wave them good-bye.  Some of these artists would have known him in Paris at past times, and some of his images (of the three you show) are reminiscent (definitely) of the rural realism and genre paintings that they executed here.

Also submitted by Melissa Hardie is an excerpt from letters from the future Mrs. Charles Simpson (Ruth Alison) which provides some description of the wife of Robert Grafton:

May*, 1912: to her mother, complaining about the need for a chaperone living with her at the age of 23

....Mrs Grafton was having tea with me yesterday and I told her about your letter -she said if she and her husband had been staying the winter here I could most certainly have lived with them as they live in Newlyn - but she really could not think why you should object to my living alone. She is an American and she says American parents are so different over their daughters. Miss Betts who was here last year was only 23 and had come over from America and was going all over Europe Studying at different places - entirely by herself. Mrs Grafton is such a dear person, and looks out for me well.

Mr Grafton, the American portrait-painter was most encouraging about my work (my heads I mean) when he was here for tea the other day - and it has filled me with renewed determination to get on.

*This letter implies that in 1912 the Graftons had already been in Newlyn for some months. This was an awful year for Stanhope Forbes as his wife Elizabeth Armstrong Forbes had just died of cancer in April (and she and Stanhope had been running the Forbes School of Painting since 1899, the School which Ruth Alison was attending when she met Charles Simpson, whom she married in 1913.)

October 27th, 1912: Letter to her parents after returning for the winter term at the Forbes School, at which time her engagement was announced:

....At the Graftons farewell dinner that evening, he (Charles Simpson) made them all shriek with laughter by saying into enormous calm that while I had been away [for the summer] we had written twice a day to each other !! -- and Munnings (who is a brilliant painter, and has been a great friend of his for years) said "I always knew if Simpson ever fell in love it would be a great and wonderful love"! He says I have done him heaps of good and his friend [Ernest Procter, RA] told him I was going to entirely rule the roost!

You know Mrs Grafton was going to America by herself while her husband "Bob" went to Belgium and did a lot of sketches to make up for the time lost over his beastly fresco here* -- But when he had got her as far as Liverpool (for the ship) the two dear things found they couldn't possibly do without each other - so they both went back to America together. Isn't it sweet -- and we were all certain here that that is what they would do so we were not surprised!

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
A prolific landscape, genre and portrait painter, Robert Grafton was primarily active in Michigan City, Indiana although he spent much time in Chicago and traveled extensively in Europe and the United States.  He studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, in Paris at the Academie Julian, and in Holland and England.

He was active in New Orleans, Louisiana during several winters beginning 1914 and created a one-man show of New Orleans paintings in Chicago in 1917-1918. He was one of the organizers of the first art classes in the French Quarter and painted scenes and murals at the St. Charles Hotel with Louis Oscar Griffin.

In Indiana, he was a member of the Art Association of Richmond and exhibited in Chicago with the Hoosier Salon. He also exhibited at the Art Institute and Union League Club in Chicago.

Memberships included the Chicago Painters and Sculptors, Palette & Chisel Club, Chicago Art Club, Chicago Gallery Association, Chicago Society of Artists and Chicago Artists Guild.

Robert Grafton was born in Chicago to George Grafton and Delia Oviatt Grafton.

Within a week after the 1934 Union Stock Yards fire in Chicago, which completely destroyed the historic Stock Yard Inn and all the portraits within its gallery, Fredrick H. Prince, the chairman of the Union Stock Yards and Transit Company, commissioned Grafton to begin repainting the portraits lost. In 18 months, before his death, he completed a total of 164. Other portraits by him are in the State Library in Indianapolis.

John Mahe, Encyclopedia of New Orleans Artists, 1718-1918
Peter Hastings Falk, Editor, Who Was Who in American Art
Guillaume de Ramel, whose grandfather was involved with the Union Stockyards in Chicago where Grafton had his paintings restored after the Stockyards fire.
Linda Collins, grand daughter of the artist, courtesy of Edward P. Bentley

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Studied at the Chicago Academy of Design and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Traveled to Europe and studied at the Académe Julian in Paris as well as in Holland and England between1895-1905. Returned to the U.S. and was active in New Orleans, LA during several winters from 1914-18.

In 1928, Grafton was commissioned to paint murals at Kansas Wesleyan University showing pioneers arriving by wagon train. He was best known for his portraits of educators, professional men, and public officials.

Member: Palette and Chisel Club of Chicago; Art Assoc. of Richmond, IN; Chicago Painters and Sculptors; Chicago Gallery Assoc; Chicago Society of Artists; Chicago Art Guild.

Paris Salon; Art Institute of Chicago, 1907; Fort Wayne (IN) Art Assoc., 1908; Thurber Art Galleries, 1917-18; Delgado Museum; Brooks Memorial Museum; Hoosier Salon, 1925- 29; Union League Club. Collections: State Library, Indianapolis; Springfield (IL) State House; Kansas Wesleyan Univ.; First National Bank, Fort Wayne, IN; Delgado Museum; New Orleans Artists Assoc.; Earlham College; Northwestern Univ.; Art Assoc.,Richmond, IN; Indiana State Capitol; Michigan State Capitol; Univ. of Wisconsin; Iowa State Univ.; American Embassy in Paris.
Susan Craig, "Biographical Dictionary of Kansas Artists (active before 1945)"
AskART,, accessed July 5, 2008; Mann, Gordon C. An Outline History and Source Book of the Kansas Wesleyan University. M.S. thesis, Kansas State Teachers College of Emporia, 1940.; Park, Esther Ailleen. Mural Painters in America. Pittsburg: Kansas State Teachers College, 1949.

This and over 1,750 other biographies can be found in Biographical Dictionary of Kansas Artists (active before 1945) compiled by Susan V. Craig, Art & Architecture Librarian at University of Kansas.

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