Also spelled Tchelitchew or Tchelichev. Born into an ancient, wealthy family of landed gentry in the Kaluga district, southwest of Moscow, Tchelitchew ws educated privately by tutors and then at the Moscow Academy and Moscow University.
In 1918 the Russian Revolution forced the family to flee to Kiev, which was not yet under Communist control, where he studied art and stage-design. By 1920 he was in Odessa, escaping the advancing Red armies. He moved then to Sofia, Constantinople and Berlin.
There he met Allen Tanner, a Chicago-born pianist, and became his lover. In 1923 they moved to Paris and Tchelitchew began painting portraits of the avant-garde and homosexual elite.
They had a relationship until 1933, when he fell in love with the handsome 23-year-old writer and critic Charles Henry Ford.
They remained lovers until Tchelitchew's death. In 1934 Thcelitchev and Ford visited Spain and Italy before traveling to the US.
He continued his work in design for Balanchine's fledgling American Ballet and for A. Everett "Chick" Austin, a friend and director of the pioneering Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut.
In 1952 Tchelitchew became a U.S. citizen, but shortly afterwards moved to Grottaferrata, near Rome, and later Frascati, which remained their home for the rest of Tchelitchew's life.
He suffered a heart attack in 1956 and died on July 31, 1957 in Rome, with Ford by his bedside.
His works include, in addition to well-known nudes such as Tattooed Man (1934), a number of pen-and-ink sketches that illustrate homoerotic desire, some of which are housed in the Kinsey Collection of erotic art.
The artist also executed watercolor illustrations of the gay novel by Ford and Parker Tyler, The Young and Evil (1933). These illustrations were not published with the text until 1988.