Prolific painter known for portrait, landscape painting and history murals as well as painting 160 works in Saddle & Sirloin Club Portrait collection.
1876-1936 | Artist: Self
Impact & Accomplishments
More works in the Saddle & Sirloin Club Portrait Collection today are by Robert Grafton than any other artist: 160. Born in Chicago in 1876, Robert Wadsworth Grafton studied at the Chicago Academy of Design and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago before traveling overseas to study at the Académie Julian in Paris, as well as in the Netherlands and England. After his return to Chicago, he became involved in several artists’ organizations, including the Palette and Chisel Club, becoming its president in 1906.
Grafton moved to Michigan City, Indiana, and spent winters in New Orleans between 1916 and 1920, painting with his friend Louis Oscar Griffin. There, the two collaborated on murals in the St. Charles Hotel in 1917. Grafton painted many other murals, too, including those for the Tippecanoe County (Indiana) Courthouse, the Illinois State Capitol, the Lafayette School in Chicago, the Hotel Rumely in La Porte, Indiana, and the First National Bank in Elkhart, Indiana.
Perhaps best known for his portraits, however, Grafton depicted three Indiana governors and two U. S. presidents, Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover. Records indicate that both presidents sat for the painter while in the White House. He became an official Saddle & Sirloin Club portraitist around 1915, and then was later commissioned to repaint the portraits destroyed by the 1934 fire.
For the last two years of his life, Robert Grafton painted with tremendous speed, returning 162 of the lost portraits to Chicago, and painting two new inductees during the same period. (Four of these works are no longer in the collection.) His signature is visible on only one, the likeness of Frederick Pabst, Sr. His own portrait, a self-portrait, was hung in the collection to honor his accomplishment and contribution. The Chicago Daily Tribune reported that the re-painting project contributed to Robert Grafton’s early death in 1936, at age 59.
Did You Know?
Chicagoan Robert Wadsworth Grafton painted the three large fourth floor murals in 1918 as a part of Illinois' Centennial celebration. These murals, as well as the rotunda eagles, have recently been restored. Pictured above: East - over Room 400 "Agriculture" - Farmer plowing behind oxen, women sowing seed.