Robert Arthur Graef was born September 26, 1879 on the Lower East Side of New York City. His father, Frederick Wilhelm Graef, was born 1840 in Germany, then called Prussia. His mother, Emma S. Brunner, was born 1851 in New York City to parents of Swiss and German ancestry. They married in NYC in 1872. They had three children. Caroline "Lena" was born in 1876. Alfred was born in 1878, and then Robert in 1879. They lived at 143 Second Avenue, near East Ninth Street in Manhattan. His father was a prosperous glass and chinaware merchant with a store at 1141 Broadway, which was on the corner of 26th Street.
In 1884 the family moved to a rented home in Brooklyn.
In 1890 at the age of ten his first published artwork appeared in a Brooklyn Newspaper.
On July 6, 1893 he graduated from grammar school P.S. 78 at 174 Pacific Street in Brooklyn.
In September 1893 he enrolled in the Regular Three Year Art Course at Pratt Institute of Brooklyn.
In 1896 he won first prize in a student competition to design a poster for the mid-summer issue of Century Magazine, which was his first illustration published in a nationwide magazine. He was sixteen years old.
On June 19, 1896 he was awarded the Diploma of Course Completion from Pratt Institute of Brooklyn.
In 1897 a new brick home was built for the family at 399 Ocean Avenue in Brooklyn.
On August 26, 1899 his father died and left the family a significant fortune.
Robert A. Graef opened a professional art studio at 70 Fifth Avenue, near 13th Street in Manhattan. His illustrations soon appeared in Red Book, The Delineator, Woman's Home Companion, Hampton's Magazine, as well as the Hearst newspaper syndicate.
In 1908 he married Ethel Esther Leffingwell, who was born 1881 in NYC. They lived with his widowed mother and unmarried sister in a separate floor of his family home at 399 Ocean Avenue.
On September 13, 1909 his son Frederick Leffingwell Graef was born. Their second child Robert Leffingwell Graef was born October 20, 1914.
During the Great War he reported for draft registration on September 12, 1918, and was recorded to be medium height, medium build, with blue eyes and gray hair. He was thirty-eight years old, so he did not serve in the military. He contributed patriotic recruitment posters to the war effort, as did other illustrators, such as James Montgomery Flagg, Charles Dana Gibson, and John A. Coughlin.
In 1921 he joined the newly founded Guild of Free Lance Artists, which later became the Artist's Guild. This was an innovative union of allied illustrators, mainly composed of members of the New York Society of Illustrators.
In 1924 they sold the family home on Ocean Avenue. He moved to 1910 Avenue I in Brooklyn. His wife's unmarried sister Elise Leffingwell came to live with them. His older sister Caroline went to live with their brother Albert at 11 Irvington Place in Brooklyn.
In 1924 he was listed in a professional registry of illustrators at 70 Fifth Avenue, the same place of business he had occupied for twenty-four years.
His illustrations began to appear in pulp magazines, such as Everybody's Magazine, Love Stories, Short Stories, and most notably, Argosy.
In 1933 his son, Robert, while attending Columbia University was voted "The Most Distinctively Garbed Student." This honor reflects his family's prosperous lifestyle during the Great Depression.
On November 7, 1936 his sister Caroline died at the age of sixty, after which he inherited a small fortune.
His illustrations appeared in The Rotarian, Woman's World, The Farmer's Wife, St. Nicholas Magazine, and Boy's Life.
In 1940 he illustrated a series of classic children's books published by McLoughlin Co, including Treasure Island, Rip Van Winkle, Sleeping Beauty, and A Christmas Carol.
In 1940 his Aunt Anna Brunner died and left him another considerable fortune.
On April 26, 1942 he registered with the selective service, as required by law. He was recorded to be age sixty-two, five-seven, 156 pounds, with a ruddy complexion, blue eyes and gray hair.
During the Second World War he again created patriotic recruitment posters.
On November 29, 1945 his wife Ethel died.
He was a member of the Ocean Avenue Congregational Church in Brooklyn. In 1950 he was commissioned to create a poster for the American Bible Society.
He still worked in the same art studio at 70 Fifth Avenue, where he first started his illustration career in 1900.
Robert A. Graef died at home in Brooklyn, at the age of seventy-one on May 16, 1951.
© David Saunders 2011