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Erte (Romain de Tirtoff) Full Biography

About Erte 

Romain de Tirtoff otherwise known as Erte, the father of Art Deco, was born to a fairly distinguished family in Saint Petersburg Russia. Erte’s pseudonym comes from the French pronunciation of his initials (ɛʁ.te or Air Tay). He was considered a French artist despite his Russian birth because of his migration to France in the year 1912. It was in this same year that he decided to rename himself Erte rather than go by the name Erte; He did so in an effort to not embarrass his family who wanted him to follow in his father’s footsteps.


Erte’s early life

As mentioned in the previous paragraph Erte was born in Saint Petersburg Russia on November 23, 1892. He was the child of very well-off parents (aristocrats) who, being aware of his love for the arts, decided to support him in his early endeavors to pursue them. It was this support that aided Tirtoff in developing his artistic ability. At a very early age Tirtoff was conflicted because of his love of both dance and art however, he realized that he could live without dance but not without design and art.


Fun fact: Tirtoff managed to produce his very first design by the age of six - it was for his mother.


Erte moved to the city of Paris in 1912 at the ripe old age of 19 years old, he didn’t know this then but that would soon become his home. Shortly after his arrival in Paris Erte did a collaboration with Paul Poiret, a prominent fashion designer there. It was this collaboration that jump started his career and led to him being hired by Harper's Bazaar - he created their monthly cover for over 22 years (around 200 designs)


A few of his designs are on either side


During his tenure at Harper's Bazaar, he also managed to secure several jobs producing stage sets and costume designs for theaters. He became well-renowned in this space because of his ability to set artists apart from the competition. Of the artists (stage sirens) who called on his name there were: Mata Hari, Anna Pavlova, Sarah Bernhardt, Joan Crawford, Lillian Gish, Marion Davies, and many more. Music halls also became a part of his repertoire in this period. He was known for his ability to produce work for entire productions, all the way from the stage design to costumes. Of the people he produced work for were George White, Irving Berlin, The Ziegfeld Folies, and the Folies-Bergere.


Erte’s Mid Life

During the middle of Erte’s life he found that much of his work was overlooked because of the art world’s newfound love of Abstraction and Pop. Romain’s followers departed from his work and journeyed to the creations of Americans - for a moment Erte was out of the spotlight and America had its time in it. During this period Erte ran into the Estoricks, a couple who noticed the historical significance and quality of his work. These 2 individuals just so happened to be the owners of Seven Arts Limited  and decided to be his exclusive agent until he died.


Erte’s Late life

In the year 1967 Erte had the opportunity to present 170 of his pieces in New York. It was this opportunity that led to the entire collection being purchased by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This just so happened to be the first instance, noted by Erte, where a museum purchased the entire collection of a living artist.



During that same year the Estoricks went on to put on a major exhibition of Erte’s work in London. It was this exhibition that led to his being considered a modern-day Michelangelo. The words of the critic who did this reference were, “If Michelangelo came back to earth, he wouldn’t have had more publicity.” In this exhibition was Erte’s entire Alphabet Suite, a work that was considered his piece de resistance.



It was around this time that Art Deco began seeing a resurgence in interest and Romain decided to add something else to his repertoire, editions. Following the advice of the Estoricks, Erte began producing serigraphs and lithographs to give his audience something new to consume.



In the latter years of Erte’s life he decided to explore other arenas of creative expression. During which, he produced things such as sculptures, prints, jewelry, and used new techniques for print making such as hot foil stamping to create both dimensionality and luxury in his works. It was also during this time that Erte’s work began to reach a broader audience because of the boost in production.



Erte was a man of many colors. To him life was creativity, and that can be seen in all of the works he’d produced during his time.


What was Erte known for?

Erte was known for a multiplicity of things in the art world but was most known for his work in the fashion industry. Aside from that he was also considered the father of Art Deco.



Why was Erte considered the father of Art Deco?


Erte was considered the father of Art Deco because of the influence his works had on Art and Design in the 20th century.


Is there an animated movie in the style of Erte’s Art Deco?

Erte’s designs and artistic ability can be found in many animated films in the 20th century. A few examples of this would be Twenty Four Dollar Island(1927), Accent on Beauty(1930), Phillips Broadcast of 1938(1937), The Life and Death of 9413: A Hollywood Extra, The Dancing Fool(1928), The Antique Shop(1931), Flying Down to Rio(1933), The Lullaby of Broadway(1935), and On The Avenue(1937).


What paint did Erte use?

Erte was very versatile in his use of mediums for his productions. He made use of a combination of Gouache, Pen and Indian Ink.


The Art Deco style came about in the 1920s-1930s and was used by many artists, not just Erte. He made use of the style in his productions during the 20th century but it was also used by artists such as Jean Puiforcat; the glass and jewelry designer, Rene Lalique, Raymond Templier, etc.





Pastore, J. Erté (Romain de Tirtoff)(1892-1990).


Duncan, A. (2009). ART DECO COMPLETE. HARRY N. ABRAMS Incorporated.


Barthes, R. (1973). Erté (Romain de Tirtoff). FM Ricci.


de Tirtoff, R. Selected by S. Blum (1976), Designs by Erte Fashion Drawings and Illustrations from" Harper's Bazar.



Reviewed by an art historian and appraiser



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