Erte (1892 - 1990)
Romain de Tirtoff was born to a wealthy family in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1892. His father, an admiral, kindled the young boy’s interest in intricate designs with his collection of books on India and Indian art. By the time he was eight, Erte was designing dresses for his mother, who wore them to parties with great success.
His fascination with the worlds of theater and dance, both thriving in turn-of-the-century Russia, also began early; he even considered pursuing a career as a dancer. However, Erte’s first passion remained art, a calling he knew he could follow for his entire life.
In 1912, he answered the siren call of Paris, home of tempestuous artists, intriguing aristocrats, and reigning divas of opera, theater, and society. It was in the City of Light that Erte adopted his new name, derived from the French pronunciation of his initials, “R.T.” From his earliest days in Paris, Erte thrived under the tutelage of the celebrated designer Paul Poiret.
In a city where decadence was de rigeur and elegance was synonymous with opulence, Erte was a living example of this dictum. He often appeared at the fancy masquerade balls of the era in creations of his own design, sparkling with gold lame and precious jewels.
He gained even greater popularity with his artistic designs for the stage. His first costume was for Mata Hari, the exotic beauty-turned-spy, in 1925. He would go on to create lavish, richly detailed sets for everything from music hall shows like George White’s Scandals or the Folies Bergere, to costumes for the Rockettes of Radio City Music Hall, to dramatic works for performances at the Glyndebourne Opera. There was no mistaking an Erte production, extravagant in its scope and flawless in its execution.
These much-emulated, but never-equalled, characteristics also marked his celebrated covers for Harper’s Bazaar, for whom he designed over 200 covers between 1915 and 1937. Erte’s highly stylized designs of women draped in beads and furs helped define fashion for a generation. These same fantastical drawings also graced the covers of Vogue, the Illustrated London News, Cosmopolitan and Ladies’ Home Journal.
Erte’s artwork, spanning so many media and influencing so many directions in art and design, created the framework for the artistic achievements of the Jazz Age and beyond. The significance of his contribution was honored in the 1966 exhibition, “Les Annees 25” held at the Musee des Arts Decoratifs in Paris. This important show commemorated the famous exhibition of 1925, which highlighted the emerging new concepts in art, design, fashion and decorative arts.
Yet Erte’s triumphs were not limited to the grand stages of the 1920s. Holding steadfastly to his love for Art Deco ornament and extravagance, he proved equally adept at creating important works throughout the rest of his life. Drawing his subject matter from myths, fantasy, and the theater, Erte’s gouaches and graphics are unforgettable, jewel-like celebrations of color, line, and amazing style.