Born in St. Petersburg, Russia, Romain de Tirtoff (or “Erté” – a nickname based on the French pronunciation of his initials) was destined for a military career. However, he defied expectations and proved that he was to become a fabulous fashion illustrator, moving to Paris in 1912. He is notorious for his elaborate costumes and exotic designs, especially at the Folies-Bergère in Paris. Erté also spent a brief period of his life in Hollywood in 1925, working with MGM at the invitation of Louis B. Mayer.
Raised as a child of the socially elite, Erté moved to France at the age of 18 to work in the world’s center of art and fashion. Beginning his career under Paul Poiret, the most respected couturier in Paris at the time, Erté went on to work for Harper’s Bazaar for 22 years where he created more than 240 magazine covers.
His reputation earned him the patronage of Mata Hari, Pavlova and Mrs. William Randolph Hearst, as he became a major contributor to twentieth century fashion. Erté began his work with the fine print media in the 1970s, publishing more than 180 of his designs through the Circle Fine Art Corporation and then numerous lithographs and serigraphs commissioned by various publishers. In 1979, the Smithsonian Institution organized a retrospective of his work, which traveled to major museums across the U.S. and Canada.
Erté is often referenced as one of the founders of Art Deco, the style that came into vogue internationally in the 1920s. Erté defined it as the fusion of the curvilinear designs of Art Nouveau of the 19th Century with the Cubist, Constructivist, and geometrical designs of modernity. He was also influenced by Persian miniatures and would often use a brush with a single hair to complete his gouache paintings. His imagination was limitless and Erté designed costumes, stage sets, jewelry, objet d’art, sculpture, and ceramics. Unlike many artists who work freely before a canvas or sketchpad, Erté developed his own unique process: he would visualize the entire work of art in his mind until it was completed to every detail and then create the work from his “mind’s eye.” At the time of his death at the age of 97, he was considered one of the most influential artists of the 20th century.