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ROMAN

ERTE

(1892-1990)

DECORATION OF THE FINAL SCENE.

 Sketch. Revue “Night Star”

1928

Paper, Chinese ink, pen, brush, gouache, gold and silver paint

25х36 cm

A Russian artist, representative of the Modern style, a luminary of graphic design and a well-known fashion designer.

He was born in St. Petersburg on November 23 (December 4), in a navy officer’s family. Rejecting the military career that was traditional for the family he settled down in Paris and became a correspondent of the St. Petersburg based magazine of Damskie Mody (Ladies’ Fashions). He did not receive systemic artistic education. He attended R. Julien’s Academy for a short time. He invented the nickname Erté out of the first letters of his name and surname. In 1913-1914, he began a career as a fashion designer (under a well known couturier P. Poire) and a stage artist (he made, in particular, costume sketches for Mata Hari’s Minaret performance in the Renaissance theater). He concluded a contract with the U.S. Harper`s Bazaar (1915) magazine, and drew more than 100 cover pages for it in subsequent 22 years. He also worked for the Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Women`s Home Journal, The Sketch and other illustrated editions of the U.S.A., U.K. and France. He lived in Paris and Monte Carlo. 

Though Erté collaborated with classical type enterprises (by decorating, in particular, a whole range of Anna Pavlova’s ballet performances in the 1920’s and several performances in the Chicago Opera), his scenography focused on the design for pop theaters – Folie Berger music hall (1917-1927), Balle Tabaraine and La Nouvelle Eve variety show, the Lido cabaret in Paris as well as for Broadway music halls. Since 1925, he acted as a costume artist in the cinema, under a contract with the Hollywood-based Metro Goldwin Mayer studio. “Erté style is with the finesse of functional elaboration, rhythmic and at the same time exotically spectacular, full of romantic fantasies – it appeared in the inter-war period as an important forming element of Art Décor (i.e. modern that includes the avant garde elements and became a stable factor of fashion and mass culture). As a couturie, he designed garments and drawings for fabrics; among the garment reforms proposed by him (as early as in the 1920’s), the unisex principle, i.e. homogeneous designing of men’s and women’s clothes, became especially popular.

In his latest period, Erté added sculpture he was very enthusiastic about in the 1960’s to the conventional techniques (drawing with ink, water colors, gouache, lithograph) (object-free decorative compositions made of different materials). In addition to fashion and theater, his sketches covered the increasingly wider range of objects, from furniture to game cards, which are invariably transformed by him into ironical signs of prestige and luxury. In the same period, he created large graphic series, Digits and the Alphabet, where he as if summarized the typical ornamental elements of his style. The new interest in Art Décor encouraged the attention to the style patriarch: books, albums, posters and postcards by Erté and about Erté often occupied whole sections in book stores in different Western countries. In 1975, English editions of his memories (The Things I Remember) were published in New York and London in 1975. The master’s last work were sketches of decorations and costumes to the Broadway musicle of the Star Dust (1989).