Ethel Wallace (1885-1968)


Ethel Wallace (1885-1968). Woolworth Tower and City Park, 1913. Oil on canvas. 32 x 52 inches; 42.5 x 62.5 inches (frame). Signed and dated lower left. Painting has been relined with minor inpainting.



Wallace began her art studies as a young girl with William Lathrop at Phillips Mill in New Hope, PA. There, she developed a talent for painting still lifes and landscapes at an early age. A few years later, she enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts where she studied under Henry McCarter. Around 1920, she shared a studio with Charles Ramsey in Lambertville in a section of her father’s gristmill. By the early 1920s Wallace had established a studio in Greenwich Village, New York, becoming friendly with futurist artist, Joseph Stella, and French-Canadian singer, Eva Gautier. It was Gautier who familiarized Wallace with the beauty of Javanese batik textiles. Soon Wallace was creating her own uniquely stylized batik drapes, hangings, and dresses. These works, especially her portraits on batik, were a resounding success. In this same style Wallace painted a series of medieval portraits and figurative works, often using the application of gold leaf as a background. A stay in Europe with successful exhibits in England and France, which received favorable reviews, made her a celebrity. Upon her return to the States, she found that fashionable women were attracted to her designs and her fame as a trendsetter increased with successful exhibitions in New York, Boston, and Chicago, as well as an appearance of an article in the prestigious art magazine, International Studio, featuring “the Batik Paintings of Ethel Wallace”.

Ethel Wallace returned frequently to New Hope, painting landscape scenes in and around the town. In 1927, an exhibition of her work was held at the Blue Mask, the studio and gallery of Charles Ramsey. She also participated in the first showing of the New Group in 1930, a group of modernist New Hope painters who averted from the Phillips Mill crowd. Eventually, she moved to New Hope permanently, restoring an old stone house and planting a lovely flower garden that would provide subject matter for her floral paintings. Throughout her long life she was a whirlwind of creative energy, continuing to develop her multifaceted artistic interests.

She exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Society of Independent Artists, the National Academy of Design, the Phillips Mill Art Association, and the Grand Central Galleries. She also exhibited at the New York studio of Mrs. Harry Payne Whitney and at the Leicester Square Gallery in London. She was a member of the Philadelphia Art Alliance.