Ethel Reed

Ethel Reed (1874-1912) was a prominent poster designer and illustrator by the age of 19. She produced imagery for publishers and periodicals in Boston before working for The Yellow Book in London beginning in 1897. Despite her quick rise to fame, Reed’s career was relatively brief due to declining health and a chaotic personal life. Nonetheless, she was part of a tight-knit group of artists and designers promoting Art Nouveau design concepts to the mainstream publishing industry. Like Will H. Bradley and Laurence Housman, Reed’s work straddled the fine press and commercial publishing disciplines.

Reed’s covers, endpapers, and illustrations for Arabella and Araminta Stories address the book as a single work of art, unified under her direction. Reed’s work often includes female figures and floral motifs, executed with sinuous line. Her use of negative space, flat areas of color, and stark contrasts between figure and background integrate aspects of both Art Nouveau and Japonisme.



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Arabella and Araminta Stories, by Gertrude Smith (Boston: Copeland and Day, 1895)
Designed by Ethel Reed (1874-1912)
Helen Farr Sloan Library & Archives, Delaware Art Museum

The cover design of this book depicts the two featured characters, twins Arabella and Araminta, in mirror images on front and back. The figures are visually connected to each other by the lily design on the spine, part of the printer’s emblem for Copeland and Day. The design is printed in black on buckram, a stiff cotton or linen cloth used primarily for the binding of books.

Like William Morris’s Kelmscott Press books, Arabella and Araminta was printed on heavy paper, with strongly inked, generously spaced type. The endpapers, printed in red, echo the cover design, with a stylized mirror image of the two girls surrounded by oversize poppies. Reed’s illustrations also play on ideas of repetition and doubling, referencing the stories of the twins.







Arabella and Araminta Stories, 1895
Ethel Reed (1874-1912)

Three-color lithograph
Gift of Helen Farr Sloan, 1977
DAM 1977-294

Reed chose red letters mixed with black type to integrate the text with the poppies surrounding the figures of Arabella and Araminta. At first glance the picture appears to be a mirror image, but slight differences in the twins’ expressions lend individuality to their personalities. The poster references the cover and illustrations of the book to entice potential consumers.










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The Yellow Book, Volume 12 (London: John Lane, Boston: Copeland and Day, 1897)
Binding designed by Ethel Reed (1874-1912)
Helen Farr Sloan Library & Archives, Delaware Art Museum

Ethel Reed’s work for The Yellow Book reflects the influence of Aubrey Beardsley, the first art editor of the periodical. The yellow covers of this journal suggested an association with salacious French novels of the period, also bound in yellow. The avant-garde literature and illustrations published within further strengthened the association.
















Miss Traumerei, 1895
Ethel Reed (1874-1912)

Three-color commercial lithograph
Gift of David and Lucinda Pollack, 2015
DAM 2015-82

Reed was influenced by the Art Nouveau style, seen here in the swirling lines and profusion of natural forms, and by the expanses of flat color characteristic of Japanese art. For this poster, Reed used various typefaces, and the author's name curves wave-like over the title. The German word Traumerei, meaning daydream, is also the last name of the book's title character as well as of a piece for piano by Schumann. 

Ethel Reed