The Artist Erte

Romain de Tirtoff, better known by his well-known pseudonym Erte, was born in 1892. Erte’s artistry extended to many fields such as fashion, set design, jewelry, costuming, graphic arts, and interior design. Best known for his Art Deco style, Erte is collected by acclaimed museums throughout the world such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. His work is among the twentieth century’s most influential art.

Born Roman Petrovich Tyrtov in St. Petersburg, Russia, Erte was a member of an important family that traced its ancestry to 1548. His father served in the Russian fleet as an admiral. Although he was his father’s only son and expected to pursue a naval career like him, Erte was drawn to the arts. He described his father’s Persian miniatures as influencing his attraction to the exotic at an early age. While Erte was raised among the social elite of Russia, he chose to leave home at the age of eighteen to move to Paris in 1912. He decided to work under the name Erte (the French pronunciation of his initials) to spare his family from his decision to become an artist.

While in Paris Erte worked for Paul Poiret, a French designer, and learned the art of fashion design which would make him a celebrated artist of couture. During the 1920s, Harper’s Bazaar employed him to showcase his flamboyant fashion designs in their magazine. His work helped to define the Art Deco movement and his famous career with Harper’s lasted for twenty-two years. Erte’s fashion designs were known for their characteristically long flowing gowns and elaborate costumes that were often flavored with an air of the exotic. His most celebrated image and signature piece is usually considered Symphony in Black. The artist’s work was also featured in Vogue and Cosmopolitan as well as other publications.

Erte’s success with Harper’s was noted in the United States. Hollywood courted the artist in the form of MGM Studio. Ben-Hur is one of the most notable films that feature his designs. Erte designed sets and costumes. He famously dressed such notable figures as Lillian Gish, Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer, and the famed ballerina Anna Pavlova. He also created designs for other world-famous venues like Radio City Music Hall, the Paris Opera, the Paris Casino, and the Folies-Bergeres.

Although Erte’s flamboyant designs drew less audience during the years of WWII, he was revived during the 1960s when he began to design limited edition items such as prints and bronze figures. Erte lived until the age of ninety-seven; he died in Paris in 1990. His work is among the best known of twentieth-century artists.