Romain de Tirtoff (November 23, 1892 – April 21, 1990) was a Russian born, French artist and designer known by the pseudonym Erté, a French pronunciation of initials R.T. Tirtoff was born as Roman Petrov de Tyrtov in St. Petersburg, Russian Empire in a very distinguished family with roots traced back to 1548.
Pictured right: Erté (Romain de Tirtoff) (Russian, 1892-1990), Danseuse de Tango signed ‘Erte’ (lower right) and titled (on the reverse), gouache on paper, 14 1/2 x 10in, unframed, Sold for US$ 976 at Bonhams, Los Angeles, July 2011.
His father Pyotr Ivanovich de Tyrtov was a Fleet Admiral. In 1910-1912 Romain moved to Paris to pursue a career as a designer.
This decision was made over strong objections of his father, who wanted Romain to continue a family tradition and to become a naval officer. Romain assumed the pseudonym to avoid disgracing the family. In 1915 he got his first significant contract with Harper’s Bazaar magazine, and he went on to an illustrious career that included designing costumes and stage sets.
Pictured left: ‘Diamants’ (Manteau de Diamants), Romain de Tiroff (Erté), circa 1970 a gouche design for the Roland Petit Show signed and annotated in ink and number NR.87 10¾ x 14¾in. (27.3 x 37.5cm.). Sold for £2,390 at Christies, London, 2004.
Erté is perhaps most famous for his elegant fashion designs which capture the art deco period in which he worked. His delicate figures and sophisticated, glamorous designs are instantly recognizable, and his ideas and art influence fashion into the 21st century. His costumes and sets were featured in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1923, many productions of the Folies Bergère, and George White’s Scandals.
In 1925, Louis B. Mayer brought him to Hollywood to design sets and costumes for a film called Paris. There were many script problems so Erte was given other assignments to keep him busy. He designed for such films as Ben-Hur, The Mystic, Time, the Comedian, Dance Madness and La bohème.
Pictured right: ERTÉ, ROMAIN DE TIRTOFF ‘THE GANGES-THE RIVERS’ FOLLIES BERGERE 1925 costume design in gouache and metalic paint, signed bottom right, Grosvenor Gallery label on reverse, framed and glazed image 11 1/8in. (28.2cm.) x 19in. (48.3cm.). Sold for £2,250 at Christies, London, November 2007.
By far his best known image is Symphony in Black, depicting a tall, slender woman draped in black holding a thin black dog. The influential image has been reproduced and copied countless times.
Erté continued working throughout his life designing revues, ballets and operas. He had a major rejuvenation and much lauded interest in his career during the 1960s with the art deco revival. He branched out into the realm of limited edition prints, bronzes and art to wear. Museums around the world purchased dozens of his paintings for their collections.
Pictured left: Erté (Romain de Tirtoff) (Russian, 1892-1990) Untitled (Costume design) signed ‘Erte’ (center right) silver ink, gouache, ink and pencil on board 14 x 10in. Sold for US$ 3,416 at Bonhams, Los Angeles, January 2011.
Erté Sculptures & Statues
Erté said that he conceived his designs in three dimensions and was thrilled to see his concepts turn into sculptures and statues. There are collectors of Erté Sculptures & Statues in their own right with notable collectors including Brooke Shields.
Pictured right: Monaco (E. 16), 1990, Polychrome bronze, with incised signature, numbered 173/375, with the stamps of the publisher, Chalk and Vermilion, and the foundry, Tallix. height 20 1/2in. Sold for US$ 4,000 at Bonhams, Los Angeles, Feb 2012.
“For me, sculpting is a natural impulse; in my creative technique I conceive designs in three dimensions…. It is impossible for a fashion designer to produce a model of each design, so he must be content with a drawing. Any designer is thus restricted to two dimensions, and a fashion designer is also confined to the physical proportions of the human being, a beautiful but rather predictable form. Sculpting – working in three dimensions – has relieved me of these restrictions and has allowed me to exercise all of my creative impulses, including the use of color and the modeling of fantastic forms.
Pictured left: La Mysterieuse polychromed-bronze inscribed ERTE, impressed RKP INT.CORP ©1980 48/250, foundry stamp JM height 15in (38.1cm) from the property from the Collection of Brooke Shields. Sold for US$ 2,196 at Bonhams, New York, June 2011.
The greatest thrill of any fashion designer is to see his drawing come to life – to rise from the flat page and be worked into cotumes that transform the wearer into an object of beauty and desire. Only when a design is realized can its success be properly judged. I am filled with a sense of excitement whenever I see and touch a bronze from my Sculpture Collection, through which I have been able to see my drawings, thoughts, ideas, and dreams come to life as never before” (Excerpt “Erte Sculpture”)
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