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 Ethel Reed  (1874 - bef. 1926)

About: Ethel Reed


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Lived/Active: Massachusetts      Known for: paintings; illustrations, often posters

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Illustrator and poster designer, painter in watercolors of landscapes and figures studies. Ethel Reed was virtually self-taught, although she studied briefly at the Cowles Art School in Boston around 1893.

In the mid 1890s, Reed exhibited watercolors at both the Boston Art Club, but later turned to the graphic arts. The Boston Herald accepted her first poster designs in early 1895, launching her brief but brilliant career. In 1895 alone, she designed sixteen posters, most of which advertised books published by the Boston firms, Copeland and Day or Lamson, Wolffe, and Co. She often designed the publications' covers, illustrations, and decorative endpapers as well.

The influence of Japanese prints and Art Nouveau with boldly simplified designs are exhibited in Reed's work. Her work received much attention both nationally and internationally.

She often depicted young girls encircled with lilies or poppies - "both seen as erotically charged flowers in the 1890s-giving her subjects a decaden air of precocious sexuality." Many of Reed's images are self-portraits, which fascinated Boston as she was renowned for her beauty. In 1895, her engagement to the painter, Philip Hale (later the husband of Lilian Westcott Hale) was announced, but in May 1896 Reed left for Europe. After traveling on the continent, she settled in England in the fall of 1896 and there completed her final designs, one of them a cover for British aestheticism's leading periodical, The Yellow Book. She exhibited at the Society of Arts and Crafts, Boston, in 1897, but later that year was in Ireland, recuperating from an illness. There is one reference to her having lost her sight, but otherwise there is nothing in the records after 1898, when she would have been twenty-four. It is believed that she died before 1926.

Hirshler, E. A Studio of Her Own, Women Artists in Boston 1870-1940

According to a 1901 British census, Reed was alive and well and living in London, still listing her occupation as "artist."   She had a 4 month old son but no father is listed.  In 1910, her former lover, the poet Richard LeGallienne (Emerson College is in possession of  his letters, and the two evidently had an affair that lasted even after LeGallienne had married) wrote a poem about the news that she lost her eyesight.  In 1926 LeGallienne published  a book about the 1890s, in which he mentioned that Ethel Reed had died too young.  

Submitted by Donna Halpern, Media Historian Emerson College

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