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Artist profile: Erté
Sports d’Hiver (1933). Available at Barnebys.

by Robyn Ashley

LONDON.- Few artists of the 20th century are able to compete with the abundant and diverse talents of Erté; from magazine illustration to set design, the Russian-born artist earned his reputation as the ‘father of art deco’ with his distinctively lithe female figures and lavish geometric designs.

Born Romain de Tirtoff in late 19th-century St.Petersburg, the young artist adopted the pseudonym Erté - the French pronunciation of his initials - on his move to Paris to avoid association with his illustrious Russian ancestry. Although Erté was expected to follow the familial tradition of a military career, he had demonstrated his conflicting artistic ambitions from a young age, designing his first costume at the tender age of five.

Erté’s first designing job was as a fashion illustrator for Harper’s Bazaar magazine, designing covers and drawings for the inside pages. The partnership between Erté and Harper’s Bazaar proved profitable for both parties: whilst the young artist was recognized for his talents by the world of fashion and design, Harper’s Bazaar gained a reputation for its creative innovation through Erté’s revolutionary designs.

As well as working for Harper’s Bazaar and other notable publications, Erté brought his illustrations to life by creating elaborate and beautiful costumes for the stage, complemented by his show-stopping set designs. The artist’s stage work caught the attention of the American film industry, and in the 1920s he was summoned to Hollywood to work on silent films.

After great success, a period of stagnancy followed for Erté around the time of the war, which would be broken by the art deco revival of the 1960s. During this relaunch of his career, the designer ventured into lithography, serigraphy and sculpture, producing work for collectors and museums rather than magazine covers; however, Erté did not completely abandon his passion for theater and film. A few years before his death in 1990, Erté designed the costumes and decor for the Broadway musical Stardust.

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