Charles Graham was born in Rock Island, Illinois in 1852. Having received no formal education or art training, Graham’s curiosity for travel and landscapes led him to take up topography for the Northern Pacific Railroad in 1873 and then on to paint theatrical scenery in New York and Chicago. After gaining modest recognition for his art, Graham was hired as a staff artist for Harper’s Weekly, later working with the New York Herald, Chicago Tribune, and Collier’s.
Graham preferred to paint scenes of progress, industry, and development. His background in topography lent itself well to his detailed and pragmatic style. He exhibited extensively with the American Watercolor Society and was named official artist of the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893. Upon moving to New York in 1896, The Sky Line of New York was one of the last watercolors he produced before dedicating his work solely to oil painting.