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There aren’t many 20th-century artists with long careers and their work embraced by different generations in the arts. After seven decades of work, Erté was definitely one of them. Best known for his Art Deco fashion designs, this Russian-born French artist created numerous illustrations and designs for fashion and theatre, reflecting the style of the era and influencing many creatives to come.
Born in 1892 as Romain de Tirtoff in St. Petersburg, he was raised as a son of an Admiral of the Russian Imperial fleet. His upper-class upbringing allowed him to get in touch with Persian miniature painting and further pursue the interest for art. Around 1906, the young artist moved to Paris and assumed a new name, Erté, from the French pronunciation of his initials.
His first important artistic commission came from Harper’s Bazaar in 1914, opening a collaboration in which Erté will create over 250 cover designs for the magazine. Next to illustration, he designed dresses and jewelry for women, costumes and set designs for opera and ballet, and later, posters and prints. In his early career, the majority of his designs was created in line with the Art Deco style, but Erté’s particular ability was to adapt popular style and trends to his own expression. For example, the great popularity of ancient Egyptian art and aesthetics of the era was something that he integrated into his designs.
As his most famous works, historians often cite lavish and extravagant theater costumes, especially the ones he created for Folies-Bergère in Paris and George White's Scandals in New York. These elaborate designs show the full scale of his skill, as he blended the exotic with the elegant, while highlighting delicate female form. In 1925, the designer was invited by Louis B. Mayer, the director of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, to Hollywood where he designed costumes for film.
After the Great Depression, the interest in Erté’s work waned and the period of disinterest lasted until after the World War II. But in the 1960s, a new time for the design came and Erté was brought back from the shadow. Restarting his career at a later age, he started to create multiples, focusing on posters, prints and metal sheet sculptures. The 1970s welcomed the first monograph about the artist, his memoirs as well as the final publication of his distinguished Alphabet lettering series based on human form.
Recognized by the international art community, Erté prominently marks the pages of art history, while his work remains highly collectible and present in some of the world’s most prestigious collections, including those of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, the Smithsonian Institution and London’s Victoria & Albert Museum.
Erté died in Paris in 1990, at the age of 97.
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