Ethel Reed: I Am My Own Property

February 25–August 21, 2022

Ethel Reed shot to fame in 1895 as a fresh talent in the poster world, became the darling of the international press in a matter of months, and then disappeared from public life by 1898.

Until recently, scholars only knew her as the best of a very small number of women poster designers at the turn of the century, creating light-hearted, decorative advertisements for literary publications primarily based in Boston. While contemporary critics have often dismissed her work as cheerful fluff and her talent as less notable than that of her male counterparts, both news articles of the time and her personal correspondence reveal a heavily autobiographical, oftentimes dark and defiant, thread running through her illustrations.

Her life and work represent the struggles of being a female artist in the male-dominated art world of the late 19th century, while also touching on issues of class, addiction, mental health, conservative societal expectations, and sexuality.

The exhibition comes to Poster House through a generous loan from Thomas G. Boss. 


Selected Images

lithographic poster of a woman in profile reading a blank sheet of paper. oversized poppies are in the background
The Boston Sunday Herald, 1895
Ethel Reed
lithographic poster of two blonde twins back to back in black outfits. Decorative type announces the book above and below
Arabella and Araminta Stories, 1895
Ethel Reed
lithographic poster of a victorian woman playing the piano; oversize yellow flowers cross the foreground
Miss Traumerei, 1895
Ethel Reed
lithographic poster of two women in muted tone gowns and coats holding books
Poster Show, 1896
Maxfield Parrish
lithographic poster of a man sipping lemonade and reading a magazine in a chair
Harper's August, 1898
Edward Penfield
woodblock poster of two women in striped dresses walking in a field by a tree
The Echo, 1895
Will Bradley
lithographic poster of an angelic woman holding a man's head in her lap
The Quest of the Golden Girl, 1896
Ethel Reed
lithographic poster of a woman in a black dress holding a large poppy next to her face
Folly or Saintliness, 1895
Ethel Reed