Erté is not often referred to as the Father of Art Deco, but in reality, that is what he was. Modern audiences know him best for his elaborate, theatrical fashion designs, but the artist whose real name was Romain Petrovich Tyrtov showcased his talents in many other fields.
His passion for design was evident from the age of five, when he not only designed an evening gown for his adored mother, but also persuaded adults to turn his sketch into a reality. The result was nothing less than astounding.
Erté’s Early Life
Erté was born in the Russian city of St Petersburg on 23 November 1892. His father was an admiral in the Imperial Fleet who hoped that his only son would follow in his footsteps.
However, it was clear to him that he would be either a dancer or an artist. Joining the navy simply wasn’t an option. Later in life, Erté said that he realized that he could live without dancing, but he couldn’t live without painting or design. Inspired by his convictions, he left Russia for Paris, France, at age 19.
A Life Of Art
Erté’s first job in Paris was as a draughtsman for a fashion house, but that did not last longer than a month because his employer did not think he had any real talent. His response was to send his sketches to the illustrious fashion designer Paul Poiret, who wasted no time in offering the budding artist a job. It was at that time that he abbreviated his first and last names to create the pseudonym under which he would become known to the world.
In addition to working on theatrical costume designs with Poiret, Erté also worked independently. Not limiting himself to costumes, he also worked on set and production designs. He created costumes for the most famous actresses of the day, and he worked on productions at the Paris Opera, New York City’s Radio City Music Hall, and other top venues, which must have been as exciting as the best sports bet NRL action in this day and age.
Erté’s career took a new turn in 1915, when he started working with the magazine Harper’s Bazaar, a relationship that would last for 20 years. It also would introduce him to and gain him a following among American audiences. At this time, his designs became highly influential in the new Art Deco movement.
Changes in public taste and the rise of new artistic and design movements meant that Erté’s work was not as popular during the 1940s and 50s. The love of intricate, brightly coloured patterns that came with the 1960s lead to a new appreciation of his art, and Erté took full advantage of that by creating sculptures and lithographic prints.
In 1976, the French government recognised Erté’s contribution to the arts and named him an Officer of Arts and Letters. In 1982, he received further recognition in the form of the Medaille de Vermeil de la Ville de Paris. After a short illness, Erté died in Paris on 21 April 1990.