Erté (French, 1892–1990) is a designer and sculptor born in St. Petersburg, Russia, on November 23, 1892. Erté is a pseudonym for Romain de Tirtoff, and is the French pronunciation of the artist’s initials, R.T. He came from a distinguished Russian family, and his father served as an admiral in the Russian fleet. The artist moved to Paris, France, in 1912, and changed his name from Romain to Erté to avoid embarrassing his family, who wished that he would follow in his father's footsteps.

Erté worked for fashion designer Paul Poiret (French, 1879–1944) from 1913 to 1914. In 1915, he landed a contract with Harper's Bazaar, illustrating and designing covers. Throughout his lifetime, the artist designed over 240 covers for that magazine. He was most famous for his fashion designs and was often called "The Father of Art Deco." He was also a costume and set designer, and some of the most notable silent films he worked on included Paris, Ben Hur, and Dance Madness. His most famous image is Symphony in Black, a serigraph of a woman wearing black holding a black dog. Other works include Lust and Pink Lady. During the 1940s and the 1950s, the artist fell into relative obscurity.

Then, in the 1960s, there was an increased interest in Erté’s work, and, in response, he created a series of sculptures and lithographs that revived the Art Deco movement. In 1970, the French government awarded him the title of Chevalier du Mérite, Artistique et Culturel. In 1976, he was awarded the title of Officer of Arts and Letters by the French government. In 1982, he received the Medaille de Vermeil de la Ville de Paris. His exhibitions include those held at the Knoedler Gallery in New York, NY, in 1920, the Galleria Milano in Milan, Italy, in 1965, and the Shiseido Gallery in Tokyo, Japan, in 1976. His work is included in the collections at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, England, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and Museum 1999 in Tokyo, Japan. Erté died on April 21, 1990, in Paris, France, at the age of 97.

Timeline

1892
Born: Romain de Tirtoff in St Petersburg, Russia. The only son of an admiral in the Imperial Fleet, he was raised amidst Russia’s social elite. As a young boy, he was fascinated by the Persian miniatures he found in his father’s library. These exotic brightly patterned designs continued to be important to him and influenced the development of his style.
1906
Begins to study painting with portraitist Ilya Repin and his pupil Lossevsky.
1912
Moves to Paris and takes the name Erté, from the French pronunciation of his initials, R and T. Studies at the Académie Julian with historical painter Jean-Paul Laurens, but dislikes the regimented structure of classes and leaves after several months to become a fashion designer. Contributes sketches to Russian fashion magazine 'Damsky Mir'.
1913
Signs a contract with the famous Parisian couturier Paul Poiret. Creates costumes for his first theatrical production 'Le Minaret', featuring Mata Hari. Contributes drawings to 'La Gazette du Bon Ton', leading fashion magazine of Paris. First use of signature Erté.
1914
Produces designs for Henri Bendel and Altman’s in New York. Submits designs to 'Harper’s Bazaar'.
1915
First cover design for 'Harper’s Bazaar' published in January, beginning his 22-year collaboration with Harper’s Bazaar, during which time he creates over 240 covers for the magazine
1916
Contributes work to 'Vogue' magazine. After six months, signs a ten-year exclusive contract with 'Harper’s Bazaar'. First costume and set designs for music hall for Madame Rasmini’s Théâtre Bataclan in Paris
1917–1920
Creates costumes for revue 'Marvels of the Orient', starring Maurice Chevalier and Mistinguett at Théâtre Femina, Paris. First designs for Folies-Bergère. Works with Max Weldy, head of Folies-Bergère costume workshop, and learns about the architecture of the theatre and the mechanics of the stage. Erté will continue working for Folies-Bergère for the next eleven years. Costumes for Ganna Walska of Chicago Opera Company for 'La Bohème', I 'Pagliacci' and 'Faust', among others. Costume designs for the film 'Restless Sex', starring Marion Davies.
1920
Onwards. Erté dresses an extraordinary roster of opera, stage and screen stars, including Mary Garden, Josephine Baker, Marion Davies, Lillian Gish, Mata Hari and Anna Pavlova. These achievements earn him the title Father of Art Deco.
1922–1924
Costume and set designs for George White’s Scandals'; Irving Berlin’s 'Music Box Revue'; the Ziegfeld Follies and the Winter Garden in New York. His fashion designs appear in many publications, such as 'Harper’s Bazaar', 'La Gazette du Bon Ton', 'The Sketch', London and the 'Ladies’ Home Journal', making him one of the most widely recognized artists in the 1920s.
1925–1926
Goes to Hollywood for one year, at the invitation of Louis B Mayer, head of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, to design sets and costumes for the film Paris. Designs sets and costumes for other films including 'Ben Hur', 'The Mystic', 'Dance Madness', 'A Little Bit of Broadway', and King Vidor’s 'La Boheme' starring Lillian Gish. Signs second ten-year contract with 'Harper’s Bazaar'.
1927–1930
Costume designs, among others, for Lucrezia Bori at the Metropolitan, New York, and for George White’s musical comedy 'Manhattan Mary' at the Majestic Theate, New York. Article and illustrations for 'The Encyclopaedia Britannica' (14th edition).
1931–1936
Creates covers, illustrations, advertising designs as well as costume and set designs for theatre and opera in Paris, New York, Chicago and London, including 'Faust and Don Pasquale' at Riga Opera and 'Au Temps des Merveilleuses' at Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris.
1937
After collaborating for more than 20 years, Erté resigns from 'Harper’s Bazaar' in a dispute with editor Carmel Snow. Costume and set designs for 'Plaisir de France' at Bal Tabarin; 'It’s in the Bag', by Cecil Landeau, at the Saville Theatre, London and the Scala Theatre, Berlin.
1938–1950
Costume and set designs for numerous productions including 'London Symphony', 'Black Velvet' and 'Puss in Boots', all at the Palladium, London; 'Fleet’s Lit Up', Hippodrome, London; 'Un Vrai Paradis', Bal Tabarin; 'Les Cent Vierges', Théâtre de l’Apollo, Paris; André Messager’s operetta Coupe de Roulis, Théâtre Marigny, Paris; Rossini’s 'The Barber of Seville' for French Television; Francis Poulenc’s opera 'Les Mamelles de Tiresias' and Maurice Ravel’s ballet 'Ma Mère l’Oye', both at Opéra-Comique, Paris; a revue at Opera House, Blackpool and 'Suenos de Viena' at Teatro Comico, Barcelona.
1951–1959
Costume and set designs for, among others, 'La Traviata', Paris Opera House; 'Fancy Free', Prince of Wales Theatre, London; 'Happy Go Lucky', Opera House, Blackpool; Mozart’s 'Cosi fan Tutte', Opéra-Comique, Paris; 'Caccia al Tesoro', Teatro delle Quattro Fontano, Rome; Jacques Ibert’s opera 'Gonzague' at Cannes and Rouen opera houses; and revues at Drap d’Or and Folies-Pigalle, Paris.
1967
Costume and set design for 'Flying Colors', Expo ’67, Montreal.
1960–1969
After a period of relative obscurity in the 1940s and 1950s, great revival of interest in Erté’s flamboyant style. Costume and set designs for Latin Quarter, New York; Racine’s 'Phèdre', Théâtre du Vieux Colombier, Paris; Robert Thomas’s 'Piège pour un Homme Seul', Théâtre des Bouffes Parisiens; Rameau’s 'Castor et Pollux' at Théâtre Antique de Fourvières, Lyons Festival and Moulin Rouge, Paris. Creates designs for Louis Cuny’s ballet films 'Le Coiffeur-Miracle and édition Spéciale'.
1970–1975
Awarded the title 'Chevalier du Mérite, Artistique et Culturel' by the French government in 1970. Costume and set designs for 'Zizi, je t’aime', produced by Roland Petit, Casino de Paris ; Ragtime Ballet, Ballet Théâtre, Angers and for 'Schéhérazade', produced by Robert Hossein. Publication of autobiography 'Things I Remember'.
1976
Awarded the title Officer of Arts and Letters by the French government.
1977
Honoured with the Ziegfeld award for excellence at the Ziegfeld Ball, New York. Publication of the Alphabet portfolio, combining lithography and serigraphy.
1978
Honoured by the Eugene O’Neill Foundation at gala 'Broadway’s in Fashion' celebration, New York. TV film on Erté narrated by Diana Vreeland.
1979
French documentary 'Erté – Or a Magician in the Twentieth Century' released. Smithsonian Institution organises travelling retrospective exhibition touring the United States, Canada and Mexico for three years.
1980
Costume and set designs for Glyndebourne Opera’s performance of 'Der Rosenkavalier' by Richard Strauss. Erté Sculpture Collection and Jewelry series introduced based on his designs.
1981–1982
Publication of Erté at Ninety, showing all his prints since 1968. Awarded 'Médaille de Vermeil de la Ville de Paris'.
1983–1986
Continues producing designs for the stage and others, including posters for Folies-Bergères and Campari, a cover for 'Playboy' magazine as well as designs for Arthur Schnitzler’s 'Anatol', opening in Los Angeles. Collaborates on a musical autobiography 'Erté'. Awarded the Legion of Honour by France.
1987–1989
Publication of 'Erté at Ninety-Five: Extended Edition' with new graphic works. The Erté Gallery opens in Tokyo. Costume and set designs for new production of the musical 'Stardust' produced by Louise Westergaard as well as two acts of the 'Easter Show' at Radio City Music Hall, New York.
1990
Dies in Paris on 21st April. He is buried at the Cimitiere de Boulogne-Billancourt (Hauts de Seine).

Exhibitions

2004
Erté/Opera & Ballets Russes/Dance: Theater Costume, Los Angeles County Museum, Los Angeles, CA (solo)
2004
Erté, Robert Sandelson, London, UK (solo)
2001
Erté Fascino e Seduzione Deco, Museo del Corso, Rome, Italy (solo)
1997
Follies and Fantasies, Grosvenor Gallery, London, UK (solo)
1988
Exhibition of Erté’s American productions, Grosvenor Gallery, London, UK (solo)
1987
Major 95th Birthday Retrospective, Shows throughout the United States (solo)
1986
Retrospective: '75 Ans de Création 1911-1986', Boulogne-Billancourt, Paris, France (solo)
1983
Grosvenor Gallery, London, UK
1982
Retrospective to celebrate Erté’s 90th birthday, Dyansen Gallery and Chalk & Vermilion, New York, NY (solo)
1982
Major exhibition in Copenhagen, Denmark
1978
Exhibition of his costumes for New York’s Latin Quarter, Boston Center for the Arts, Boston, MA (solo)
1977
Graphics Exhibition, Circle Galleries, New York, NY, Los Angeles, CA, San Francisco, CA, San Diego, CA and Chicago, IL (solo)
1977
Gallery in the Square, Boston, MA
1977
Cherry Creek Gallery of Fine Art, Denver, CO
1976
Shiseido Gallery, Tokyo, Japan
1975
Club dei Bibliofili, Milan, Bologna and Palermo, Italy
1975
Galeria Arvil, Mexico City, Mexico
1975
Rizzoli Gallery, New York, NY
1975
Galleria della Rocchetta, Parma, Parma
1975
Galleria Marino, Rome, Italy
1975
Galerie Proscenium, Paris, France
1969
Metropolitan Museum, New York, NY
1969
Neues Kunst-Zentrum, Hamburg; Galerie René Drouet, Paris, France
1969
Vincent Price Gallery, Chicago, IL
1967
Grosvenor Gallery, New York, NY; 170 works purchased in its entirety by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
1967
Grosvenor Gallery, London, UK; Numerous works purchased by the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK
1967
Galerie Jacques Perrin, Paris, France
1967
Galleria Viotti, Turin, Italy
1967
Galleria d’Arte Cavalletto, Brescia, Italy
1965
Les Années 25, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, France
1965
100 Years of Harper’s Bazaar, New York, NY
1965
Galerie Jacques Perrin, Paris, France
1965
Galerie Motte, Paris , France
1965
Galleria Milano, Milan, Italy
1936
Waldorf Astoria Hotel, New York, NY
1927–1930
Exhibitions at the Studio Gallery, Brussels, Belgium; Galerie Charpentier, Paris, France; and William E. Fox Gallery, New York, NY
1925–1926
Exhibitions at Madison Gallery, New York, NY and Galerie Charpentier, Paris, France
1920
Knoedler Gallery, New York, NY