Ethel Reed

(1874-before 1920) American Illustrator

Reed, a Yankee comet in the story of fin-de-siècle poster design, provides evidence that women were at work in the Northeastern U.S. poster market, and that the influence of French Art Nouveau was powerful and immediate on American shores.

Therese Thau Heyman writes the following of Reed:

“In the last decade of the nineteenth century, Ethel Reed emerged as one of Boston's preeminent poster designers. Born in Newburyport, Massachusetts, she studied drawing and was briefly apprenticed to a painter of miniatures, but for the most part was self-taught. She spent most of her career in Boston, and also did some work in London.

Reed was extraordinarily prolific while in Boston. From 1895 to 1897 she designed a large number of important book posters, in addition to producing illustrations, covers, and endpapers. Her style was distinctive, albeit rooted in the whiplash-curve sensibility of art nouveau. Many of Reed's illustrations feature female figures, frequently surrounded by objects and tangled forms that seem full of secret and illicit meanings.

Reed's departure from the spotlight was even more sudden than her arrival. Engaged to the Boston artist Philip Hale in 1897, she traveled to England later that year to work on a book poster for the novelist Richard Le Gallienne. She then traveled to Ireland, apparently for a vacation. At this point she disappeared, and nothing more is known of her activities or whereabouts.”

Therese Thau Heyman Posters American Style (New York and Washington, D.C.: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., in association with the National Museum of American Art, 1998) Link to Smithsonian entry here.

Reed makes a welcome appearance in History of Illustration, (Doyle, Grove & Sherman, 2018.) Reproductions.

Ethel Reed, Miss Träumerei, poster design for Lamson Wolffe & Company, Boston, 1895. Lithograph.

Ethel Reed, Is Polite Society Polite?, poster design for Lamsom, Wolffe & Company, Boston. 1895. Lithograph.

Ethel Reed, A Virginia Cousin & Bar Harbor Tales, poster design for Lamson Wolffe & Co., Boston, 1895. Lithograph. Note the presence of wash tonalities in the bodice of the dress, achieved through the use of tusche, a greasy ink solution used in lithography. Those grays are not photomechanical halftones—they bear the autographic signature of the medium.

Ethel Reed, Uncle Sam’s Church, poster design for Lamson, Wolffe & Company. Boston, 1895. Lithograph.

Ethel Reed, In Childhood’s Country, poster design for Copeland and Day, Boston. 1896. Lithograph.

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