Ruth Sigrid Grafstrom

(1905-1986) American Illustrator.

Born in Rock Island, Illinois, to artistic parents, Ruth Graftstrom emerged as a significant figure in fashion illustration in the 1930s and 40s.  Her father was the Swedish painter Olof Graftstrom, who immigrated to Seattle and had an impact on the Northwest realist painters. Olof later chaired the art department at Augustana College, where Ruth was born. Her mother was a ceramicist.

After formal training in Chicago and Paris, Grafstrom entered the field. She worked primarily in fashion illustration, upon which she had significant influence. She first came to prominence in the early 1930s, and is strongly associated with Vogue, in both American and British incarnations. She produced both covers and interior illustrations. 

She also took magazine fiction projects, and worked with the Delineator, Cosmopolitan and other women's mags. 

Ruth Graftstrom's work often calls to mind Matisse. She embraced modernist approaches to figuration while working briskly and accessibly to shape an image of up-to-date femininity. Rosemary Torre and Harold Koda write "Graftstrom made her mark...illustrating the womanly ideal–soigné, yet warm and receptive. [Her work features] 'real' women...[who] inhabit 'real' space." From 20th Century Fashion Illustration: The Feminine Ideal, 2011, Courier. 

Several of the Vogue samples here underscore Torre and Koda's point: these women are in some actual place, not suspended in display-land.  

Her work ranges from collage to pure line to loose, flat massing annotated by line, to fully modeled figures in complex settings. She exudes confidence. 

Graftstrom secured significant advertising clients, among them Saks, Matson Line, Coty, and Pepsodent.


Ruth Grafstrom, "Coat and Dress from Rose AMado and from I. Magnin". Vogue. September 1, 1935.

Ruth Grafstrom, "A wrap-around over your suit". Vogue. June 1, 1932.

Ruth Grafstrom, "Striped Woollens are Autumn News". Vogue. August 15, 1933.