Wednesday, 17 November 2010

The Prolific Art, Illustrations & Designs of Erté

Erté Romain de Tirtoff

Erté in 1924

A resourceful woman who is plain, can achieve the reputation of a beauty simply by announcing to everybody she meets, that she is one. 

His father ranked as an admiral in the Russian Imperial Naval School; his mother was descended from Cossacks - Romain de Tirtoff - later to change his name to the French-sounding  Erté - came from an aristocratic, musical family loyal in its long history of service of the Tsars of Russia since the days of Peter the Great.

Romain was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, on November 23, 1892. It is said that as a child, the precocious five year-old, aided by the family's resident dressmaker, was already designing clothes for his mother. In his father's library, the boy found a book on Persian and Indian miniatures which delighted and decided the young Romain to become a painter. His mother, in turn, nurtured his love and appreciation of refinement, design, and things European by taking the young Romain abroad on summer tours of European cities while his father was away on Naval maneuvers.
(Source:, 2010; Blake, P.,, 1982) 


The Golden Pearls

In the heady days before World War I and the ensuing Russian Revolution that followed, St. Petersburg was the fashionable and cultural centre of artistic activity: music, ballet, theatre, and fashion (the Tirtoffs had a permanent box at the Maryinski Theatre where the young Romain saw Sergei Diaghilev's famed Ballet Russes perform) all thrived in Russia's capital on the banks of the Neva River. Along St. Petersburg's main avenue, Nevsky Prospekt, he would accompany his mother on shopping expeditions to fashionable shops where he was captivated by the artistry and skill of Russian couturiers. (Source:, 2010) 

Having always been an admirer of the French capital, Romain journeyed there to make his home in Paris at the age of nineteen in February 1912. In those days, Paris was in the thrall of the Ballet Russes - the French had never seen anything quite like the Russian ballet company or Nijinsky, for that matter, before. It was in Paris, in 1913, that Romain witnessed Nijinsky's controversial dance in L'Apres-Midi d'un Faune and Igor Stravinsky's composition, Sacre du Printemps. Not only ballet flourished in Paris at that time: Picasso and Braque were recreating (and reconfiguring) contemporary art with their invention of Cubism; Futurism, Surrealism and Dadaism, were among the other art forms also burgeoning or about to be introduced in Paris and to Parisians. (Source:, 2010) 

Image courtesy of:

The Firebird

In 1913, Romain  (after having been let go from a previous draughtsman job at a fashion house) landed an 18-month contract position at the most prestigious fashion house - with the first marketed designer perfume - and with the most acclaimed fashion designer working in Paris at that time: Paul Poiret. It was Poiret who instigated Romian's pseudonym, Erté, by adapting the French pronunciation of Romain's initials, R. T. (pronounced air tay). Poiret was savvy enough to employ, and collaborate with, the artists of his day to create fabric prints; he also recognised Erté's natural artistic gifts. In spite of all that, their collaboration ended acrimoniously with a lawsuit. (Source:, 2010)
Queen of the Night

With the arrival of World War I and the ensuing political upheaval, Erté departed for Monte Carlo, where he spent the years between 1914 to 1923. A distant cousin of Erté's, Prince Nicholas Ourousoff, came to live with him in Monte Carlo. Ourousoff became his business manager and it was he who, shortly thereafter, first suggested to Erté that he approach the American fashion magazine, Harper's Bazaar, in New York. Erté's association with Harper's was to last from January 1915 to December 1936, and encompassed over 2,500 sketches, drawings and designs, including 240 covers. The association only broke after the owner, Randolph Hearst, lost control and possession of the magazine in 1937. The new editor made the decision to switch from using fashion illustration to the new mania, photography, thus signalling the decline of fashion illustration as an art form. But during his 20-year regime at Harper's, Erté gained an international reputation as the world's leading fashion illustrator. (Source:, 2010) 

Fireflies - (Silkscreen print) ~ 1980
Image courtesy of:

Of fashion, Erté has said, "Clothes are a kind of alchemy... Every human being has a duty to make himself as attractive as possible." After his time as a magazine fashion illustrator had come to an end, Erté turned his attention to  a metier he had tried his hand at in the past: the theatre. (Cited from:, 2010)

The world of the theatre - which had always held a special fascination for him - was not new to Erté. During his time at Poiret, he had experimented with costume design for none other than the Dutch exotic dancer - and the executed World War I spy - Mata Hari. It was not Erté's first experience with the theatre either. In 1917, he had  been hired by Madame Rasimi to devise costumes for a revue starring Mistinguette and Maurice Chevalier, L'Orient Mervielleux, where Erté designed the first of his fabulous plumed headdresses for Mistinguette (which became one of her hallmarks). In addition to his other work during the same time, Erté worked with Max Weldy at the Folies-Bergére from 1919-1930, gaining experience in working within the traditions of theatrical costume design, stage-lighting, and machinery. According to the art historian, Charles Spencer, Erté's desings for the Folies-Bergére were among his finest work. From the Folies-Bergére, Erté took his costume and set design talents elsewhere - the Ziegfeld Follies, George White Scandals [with music set by George Gershwin] and Irving Berlin's Music Box Revue on Broadway. Additionally, in the 1920s through his connections with Randolph Hearst, Erté also worked in Hollywood where he worked on The Restless Sex (1919) under contract with Hearst's Cosmopolitan Films. (Source:, 2010) 

Image courtesy of:


But either Hollywood did not suit Erté, or Erté did not suit Hollywood. At any rate, between 1925 and 1926, Erté began a collaboration with the French magazine, Art et Industrie, to design industrial products. He designed such household items as lamps, furniture as well as domestic interiors. In the late 1930s and 1940s, Erté focused his talents to working within the theatre limits of London and Paris. His designs were employed in musicals, operas, and ballets (in 1947 he even designed costumes for Francis Poulenc's Les Mamelles des Tirésias at the Opéra-Comique in Paris). In the coming decades of the 1950s and 1960s, Erté could still be found designing for such productions as, La Plume de Ma Tante at the Garrick Theatre in London (1958-59), starring Zizi Jéanmarie,  to productions at New York's Latin Quarter (1964-65), and numerous other shows around the globe. During the height of his career, he also created costumes for such notable women and stars of the stage as Anna Pavlova, Josephine Baker and Mrs. Randolph Hearst.
(Sources:, 2010; Blake, P.,, 1982 )  

(Above right: Melisande & Golaud)
 The above seven images are courtesy of:

But the biggest change to occur in Erté's career happened in 1965. At the age of 73, he met the founders of Seven Arts Ltd., Eric and Salomé Estorick, who persuaded him to unearth his perfectly preserved designs - hitherto kept hidden in trunks in his cellar - which caused a sensation at that time, both in Europe and in the United Sates, resulting in a renewed interest in (and, to some extent, revival of) the Art Deco period which lasted from the 1960s right through into the 1980s. Diana Vreeland, the legendary editor-in-chief at Vogue in the 1960s, declared that no one in the 20th century had a more profound influence on fashion than did Erté. For the Estoricks and beginning in 1974, Erté produced lithographs and serigraphs of his original works for various gallery exhibitions [Note: although examples are not included in this posting, a number of Erté's designs and sketches were successfully made into sculptures, which have also been exhibited]. In the twilight years of his life, a number of retrospective exhibitions were staged to honour his life's work.  
(Sources:, 2010; Blake, P.,, 1982) 

The above four images are courtesy of:

In his 70s and 80s, when most people have long retired from their professional careers, the still-svelte Erté was actively working. In the past, he referred to his work as, " mother, my wife, my friend, my mistress and my children..." For his prolific contributions to the world of decorative arts, he has been acknowledged as the "Father of Art Deco."
(Cited from:, 2010) 

Since 1935, Erté had occupied an apartment in the fashionable Bois de Boulogne district of Paris with a successive series of pet cats for company. A prodigiously hardworking individual, for close to seventy years, he would spend nearly every night at his desk, working under a single spotlight, sketching and painting with the music of Beethoven or Schubert playing. (Source: Blake, P.,, 1982)

Erté had been vacationing on the island of Mauritius, off the southeast coast of Africa, when he fell ill. He was flown home, to Paris, where he passed away at the age of 97 on April 21st, 1990.

(Above right: Wings of Victory)
Above two images are courtesy of:

Above left: French Rooster - ca. 1982 | Above right: Blossom Umbrella

Danse Laurage
The three images above are courtesy of:

Head of Pierre Imans - Folies Bergère ~ 1927

Scandals of 1926 ~ Carrot costume for the Vegetable Ballet
The two images above are courtesy of:

Image courtesy of:

Spring Showers ~ 1984
Image courtesy of:


Twilight ~ 1987
Image courtesy of:

Angel Melody

The Egyptian

Above left: Fedora Butterflies | Above right: Fedora Fan

Above left: May | Above right: June

The above six images are courtesy of:

(Above right: The Flowered Cape)

Symphony In Black
The above four images are courtesy of:
Symphony in White

Pink Lady ~ ca. 1980
Image courtesy of:

Costume design for Beatrice Mannequin
Images courtesy of:

Image courtesy of:

The four images below are courtesy of:

The Nile

The Angel


Samson and Delilah

Samson and Delilah

The five images above are courtesy of:

The above three images are courtesy of:

Autumn ~ 1982
Image courtesy of:

Above left: Winter | Above right: The Coming of Spring

The three images above are courtesy of:

The Swing
Image courtesy of:

Adam & Eve
Image courtesy of:

Above left: Furs | Above right: Oriental Tale

The three images above are courtesy of:

The Bubbles

Image courtesy of:

The above seven images are courtesy of:

Above left: Compact Vanities | Above right: Coquette

Above left: Bath of the Marquise | Above right: Flames of Love
Summer Breeze
Above right: Fall | Above right: Winter

Above left: After the Rain | Above right: Riviera

Above left: Heat | Above right: Le Rideau de L'Hiver

La Toilette

Above left: La Merveilleuse | Above right: The Chaste Susanna

Above left: Hera | Above right: Zeus

Above left: Lovers & Idol | Above right: Slave

Above left: Splendeur | Above right: Paresseuse

The Suitors

Above left: Michelle | Above right: Muff


Above left: Mystique | Above right: Cloudy Morning

Ready for the Ball


The End of Romance

Above left: Fantasia | Above right: Rendezvous

Above left: Reflections | Above right: Black Rose
Broadway's in Fashion

The Scheherazade Suite:

Pearl of the Orient


Above left: Beauty of Baghdad | Above right: Arabian Dancer

The Four Emotions Suite:

Above left: L'Amour | Above right: La Tristesse

Above left: L'Indifference | Above right: La Jalousie

The Aces Suite:

Above left: Club | Above right: Spade

Above left: Diamond | Above right: Heart

The Seven Deadly Sins Suite:

Above left: Anger | Above right: Avarice

Above left: Envy | Above right: Gluttony

Above left: Lust | Above right: Pride


The Twenties Remembered Suite:


Above left: Autumn Song | Above right: Beauty and the Beast

The Curtain

Above left: Dream Voyage | Above right: Légèreté

First Dress

Above left: Les Jolies Dames | Above right: Make-Up

Above left: Rainbow in Blossom | Above right: Selection of a Heart

Above left: Earth's Dream | Above right: Fish Bowl

The Zodiac Suite:

Above left: Aquarius | Above right: Aries

Above left: Cancer | Above right: Capricorn

Above left: Gemini | Above right: Leo

Above left: Libra | Above right: Scorpio

Above left: Pisces | Above right: Sagittarius

Above left: Taurus | Above right: Virgo
The above seventy-eight images are courtesy of:

The two images above are courtesy of:


The above two images are courtesy of:

Image courtesy of:
Kiss of Fire

The above three images are courtesy of:

Above left: Love's Captive ~ 1982 | Above right: Stranded ~ 1983
The above two images are courtesy of: 

Above left: Red Sea | Above right: Indochina
The two images above are courtesy of:

Image courtesy of:

Image courtesy of:

(Above right: Applause)

The five images above are courtesy of:


Suggested readings:

Erté's Theatrical Costumes in Full Color (1979), by Erté: Courier Dover Publications

Erté's Costumes & Sets for Der RosenKavalier in Full Color (1980), by Erté: Dover Publications

Erté's Fashion Designs: 218 Illustrations from Harper's Bazaar, 1918-1932 (1981), by Erté: Courier Dover Publications

New Erté Graphics in Full Color (1984), by Erté: Dover Publications

Erté (1995), by Jean Tibbetts: Bison Books 


  1. Thank you for this amazing Erte collection! Beautiful!

  2. This is a stylish site and so beautiful picture designs of erte.thank u for this site for sharing this.
    Erte sculpture

    1. Thank you, Mr. Carla, for your kind words. So glad you enjoy the site. I hope that you'll visit more often.

      With regards,
      ₵. Ð.

  3. Good afternoon,

    Love this entry, and love the art of Erte! I remember the first time I saw his work...I was stunned I'd never heard of him prior to that point! You have been cited as an online source at this blog:

    Thanks for the info!

    1. Good afternoon to you, as well:

      Nice to know that you enjoyed the posting on Erté - I've been an admirer of his (prodigious) work for many years. Although his designs are, more often than not, improbable, I've always been drawn to his sense of fantasy & fantastical sense of imagination; fantasy, after all, has no real connection to reality - & that's needed at times.

      Cheers & thanks for your thoughtful comment.
      ₵. Ð.

      PS: Thanks for the link; I'm slightly amused by the fact that my (little) blog is cited in the august company of the more estimable New York Times & Forbes Magazine.

    2. My name is Stephan and I travel around the world lecturing on Art Deco and Erte's life and art. Your collection of Erte's art is impressive and unlike others who write about Erte on their blogs, you have the most correct information and that is most pleasing to know. I found only one tiny, little error but it's one that everyone makes so it's not a big deal. Keep up the good work and I look forward to more writings of yours!

    3. Dear Stephan:

      Thank you kindly for your comment & estimation; I try to source the most correct information possible. Now I am curious to know what that tiny mistake is - I would like to know so as to be able to correct it. That said, I would also appreciate the source (if possible) for the correction.

      Best regards,
      ₵. Ð.

  4. are fantastic at What you do! Thank you so much for spreading your artistic enthusiasm around. Wonderful.