Introduction

self-portrait--smallEthel Reed had a brief but extraordinary career as a graphic artist in Boston and London during the 1890s. Born in Newburyport, Mass., in 1874, and a protégé of Laura C. Hills, she was largely self-taught as an artist. In 1890 she moved to Boston, where, a few years later, she captured the imagination of the public with a remarkable series of posters for newspapers, magazines, and books; she also illustrated several books and occasionally exhibited her paintings. At the age of twenty-one she found herself being described in the press as the foremost woman graphic artist in America.

In the spring of 1896, after the collapse of her engagement to Philip Hale, another Boston artist, she sailed to Europe and within a few years disappeared completely from public view. What happened to her after the turn of the century has always been regarded as essentially an insoluble problem. My book The Beautiful Poster Lady: A Life of Ethel Reed (Oak Knoll Press, 2013) represents the first successful attempt to unravel the mysteries of her later years.

The aims of this blog are (a) to assemble images of, and information about, all her known published work, (b) to put together a compilation of all the existing images of the artist herself (click on Images of Ethel Reed under Categories at the right), and (c) to report on new information about her life and career as it comes to light.

The Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress has placed images online of a number of her posters, which I have drawn upon in this blog. The National Museum of American History (the Smithsonian Institution) also owns many of the posters (as well as some unpublished work), often with inscriptions by Ethel Reed. I have quoted these inscriptions whenever possible, since they are useful in dating. I am also indebted to the NMAH — particularly to Helena Wright, Curator of Graphic Arts — for permission to reproduce images of some of their posters. I am likewise grateful to two collectors who have generously supplied scans: Mark Samuels Lasner and John Lehner.

I should emphasize that this is a work in progress. If you are curious about which images may be missing because I am still searching for them, click on the “Lacking image” category at the right. I would be happy to hear from collectors and librarians who can supply those images. More generally, I welcome corrections and further information.

— William S. Peterson (wsp@umd.edu)


[“Ethel Reed by Herself” (detail), published in 1895.]

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