Erté (1892 - 1990) is a famous designer and illustrator, born at St. Petersburg as Romain de Tirtoff, and destined by his father for a military career. He combined the French pronunciation of "R" for Romain and "T" for Tirtoff to make Erté - a name that became prominent in the world of theater and fashion in both the U.S. and Europe. He was enthralled by the fine and theatrical arts even as a young child.
He moved to France at age nineteen and worked for a time sketching for Paul Poiret and designing opera and theater costumes. Between 1914 and the 1930s he created many magazine covers for Harper's Bazaar. In the United States he worked for Flo Ziegfeld and designed costumes for the film Ben Hur (1959). Influenced by Indian miniatures, his designs, illustrations, and drawings are sophisticated and highly stylized. Erté has often been called the "Father of Art Deco," the style that came into vogue internationally in the 1920's. Erté defined it as a fusion of the curvilinear designs of Art Nouveau of the 19th Century with the Cubist, Constructivist, and geometrical designs of modernity.
His famed "Alphabet Suite" is at the Centre Pompidou Museum in Paris, and depicts each letter of the alphabet in true Erté style. Using the human form in various states of déshabillé, various poses and props are illustrated to create the letters of the alphabet. These artworks, which Erté began in 1927, were later printed as a suite of limited edition prints. The prints were an immediate success upon their release in 1977 and are now extremely rare as a complete set.
Regarding the original gouache suite, Erté said:
"I started to work on the series of Alphabet paintings in 1927, after a very successful exhibition at the Galerie Charpentier in Paris. This gallery proposed another exhibition two years later for which I had planned to complete The Alphabet. Unfortunately, I was much too optimistic. I had not realized how much other work I would have to do at the same time. There was my contract with Harper's Bazaar... and for the theater. The result was that in 1929, when my second exhibition opened, The Alphabet had not made much progress. From then on, little by little, I did complete one or two letters between various urgent commissions, but it was only forty years later that I finished the set. In 1967 (I was asked to) exhibit The Alphabet at an Erté show in London. This time I was ready - or at least I thought I was. While preparing to send the pictures to London, I suddenly noticed to my astonishment that one letter was missing in the series; it was the letter "L". I began to paint it immediately and completed it just in time for the show. As it turned out, this letter became the most successful of all in the eyes of the public."