(November 23, 1892 - April 21, 1990) Russia - France
Art Deco costume & set designer
Born Romain de Tirtoff in St. Petersburg, and destined by his father for a military career, Erté derived his pen name from the French pronunciation of his initials "R.T." Over a long and distinguished career, he had a major influence on the style and design of the 20th Century.
Erté began his fashion career at age six when his mother had a dress made from one of his first sketches. At age 19, Erté left home and moved to Paris, in fulfilment of his ambition to become a fashion illustrator. Here he gained employment with the esteemed couturier Poiret. The name Erté came into existence during these early days in Paris, partially as a way to ensure privacy for his family back in Russia. His first assignment was to create costumes for the notorious Mata Hari; later he designed clothes for fashionable society women, movie stars such as Joan Crawford and Norma Shearer.
With the onset of WWI in Europe, many of the great fashion houses shut down and Erté was forced to turn to other design avenues. In 1914, he began what would turn into a 22 year affiliation with the American magazine "Harper's Bazaar", creating cover art and illustrations. It was here that his distinctive Art Deco-style emerged. In 1919, Erte began designing for the theatre. His first designs were for the "Folies Bergere" where he continued to design costumes and sets for the next 11 years.
During his prolific years at Harper's, Erté designed 250 covers and numerous drawings for its pages and diversified into a variety of other artistic activities.
After a fling in Hollywood, at the invitation of Louis B. Mayer, head of Metro Goldwyn Meyer, designing for extravagant silent films including Ben Hur, Erté left the magazine to create sets and costumes for theater and opera. For the next 40 years, he dressed an extraordinary roster of opera, stage and screen stars, including Mary Garden, Josephine Baker, Marion Davies, Lillian Gish, and Anna Pavlova. These achievements earned him the title "Father of Art Deco".
In 1967 the Metropolitan Museum of Art purchased and exhibited a collection of some 200 Erté gouaches. Shows in London followed, bringing Erté even more recognition. His success at these exhibitions was summarized by the noted London Sunday Times art critic John Russell who wrote, "If Michelangelo were to come back from the dead he could hardly have greater or more eulogious publicity than has been accorded to Erté."
At age 75, Erté began to create limited-edition serigraphs based on his designs. At age 88, he began his work in bronze sculpture, achieving equal success with this medium. Erté truly became a classic during his own lifetime, a prominent figure in the progression of art and fashion. Erte's artistic career continued until his death in 1990.
The influence of Erté's style lives on. His costume designs are in every major museum throughout the world including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and the L.A. County Museum in Los Angeles. Many books have been published on the artist's life and work.
Erté's autobiography provided a remarkably frank catalogue of his romantic liaisons, in marked contrast to the publicly closeted nature of most of his contemporaries in the field of fashion and design. Never seedy and always amusing, Erté's catalogue of his sexual history begins at the age of 13; he described many other "delightful adventures" and "joys of the affairs of heart" including a foray into a 1920s Holliwood orgy which was not to his refined taste, and description of homosexual nightlife in 1920s Paris.
He lived with Prince Nicolas Ouroussof for close to 20 years until the prince's premature death in 1933; later he had a close relationship with a Danish ex-champion swimmer and decorator named Axel.