Ethel Mars Biography

Ethel Mars




Ethel Mars, painter, printmaker, and children’s book illustrator, was born in Springfield, Illinois on September 19, 1876, to Adelia and Alonzo Mars. After attending the McClernand Grade School, Mars secured a scholarship to the Cincinnati Art Academy, where she studied with Frank Duveneck and Lewis Henry Meakin. While there bewteen 1894 and 1895, she met fellow artists Edna Boyes Hopkins and Maud Hunt Squire, the latter of whom would become her lifelong companion.

Mars and Squire worked independently as book illustrators after graduating from the Cincinnati Art Academy, securing commissions from the publisher R.H. Russell upon relocating to New York City around 1896. They first traveled to Europe together in 1902 to study Old Master works in major museums, and they began collaborating on commissions to illustrate books such as Children of Our Town, by Carolyn Wells, and Adventures of Ulysses, by Charles Lamb. Mars and Squire were given a joint exhibition at the Cincinnati Art Museum in 1903 and again in 1904, the same year that they visited Munich, where Mars learned the techniques of color woodcut printmaking. She and Squire moved to Paris around September of 1905 and Mars was elected to membership at the Salon d'Automne and the Société de Beaux-Arts. She and Squire were part of Gertrude Stein’s circle and, in 1907, Stein immortalized the women in her early word portrait, Miss Furr and Miss Skeene. Mars’ painting Woman with a Monkey won the “Best Painting by a Woman” award in 1910 from the Society of Western Artists.

With the onset of World War I, Mars volunteered as an ambulance driver in Paris. However, it wasn't long before she and Squire, fearing for their safety, evacuated their adopted city and returned to America, where they settled in Provincetown, Massachusetts. In 1915, Mars’s international reputation attracted other artists to this seaside town and an artists’ colony emerged. Ethel Mars, along with Squire, Blanche Lazzell, B.J.O. Nordfeldt, Ada Gilmore, and Mildred McMillen were part of the original group of artists known for their white line woodcuts, called Provincetown prints. Blanche Lazzell wrote, “To be in Provincetown for the first time in those days, in the summer of 1915, when the whole scene, everything and everybody was new, it was glorious indeed…creative energy was in the air we breathed.”

At the conclusion of World War I, Mars and Squire returned to France, settling in Vence in the southern part of the country. By 1925 they were active in an artists’ colony that included Marsden Hartley, Yasuo Kuniyoshi and Chaim Soutine. Mars discontinued printmaking and resumed painting and drawing, exhibiting in the major Paris salons.

During World War II, Mars and Squire went into hiding near Grenoble, France where Peggy Guggenheim planned to open a museum of modern art. After the war, Mars continued to draw, concentrating on portraits and large-scale autobiographical watercolors and portraits of her friends and surroundings. Ethel Mars died on 23 March 1959 in Vence, France, just two years after the death of Squire. They are buried side by side.

Mars' work is held in the permanent collections of the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, TX; Cincinnati Art Museum, OH; Cleveland Art Museum, OH; Detroit Institute of Arts, MI; Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, NY; Indianapolis Art Museum, IN; Musee des beaux-arts du Canada; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA; Saint Louis Art Museum, MO; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.; Whitney Museum of American Art, NY; and the Worcester Art Museum, MA, among others.