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Erté (Romain de Tirtoff) (Russian/French, 1892-1990)

Also known as:  Erte, Romain de Tirtoff; Tirtoff, Romain de; Romain de Tirtoff

Erte is an artist best remembered for the extravagance of his costumes and the glorious brashness of his stage sets. The Russian-born son of an Imperial Fleet admiral, Erte became a prominent artist whose designs influenced the worlds of theatre, film, and fashion. He spent his youth among Russia's social elite, but defied his father's plans to have his son become a naval officer by moving to Paris at the age of 18. It was there that he changed his name to Erte, taken from the French pronunciation of his initials (Romain de Tirtoff). His designs for the covers - a total of 240 - for Harper's Bazaar magazine as well as costumes and sets for the theatre world brought him recognition as one of the most influential artists of the 1920s. Erte's illustrations also appeared in such publications as Cosmopolitan and Vogue.

Erte was recognized not only for his artistic works but for influencing an entire art movement known as Art Deco. According to Erte, Art Deco was a "confluence of Cubism and Art Nouveau." He created original costume designs for such renowned actresses as Joan Crawford and Lillian Gish. His stage designs enhanced productions for New York's Radio City Music Hall and the Folies-Bergere in Paris.

In 1925, Erte was called to Hollywood by Louis B. Mayer to design costumes and sets. He worked on such films as Ben Hur. Erte continued to work throughout his long life, contributing his designs to such productions as operas, revues, and ballets. He also created designs for the cognac called Courvoisier. In 2008, the last remaining bottles designed by the artist sold for $10,000 each.

Erte died in 1990 at the age of 97. After a relatively quiet period during the 1940s and 1950s, he produced a colorful series of lithographs and sculpture. His works are part of many museum collections such as those in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. From all his work, his best-known image is surely Symphony in Black, which shows a slender, tall woman wearing black and holding a tiny black dog on a leash.

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