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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Art Deco's Most Famous Artist

A part of "Wisdom, with Light and Sound" that is over
the entrance of the GE Building in New York City.
(30 Rockefeller Center.)  Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Art Deco was an art movement that began in Paris in the 1920s, and became internationally popular up until WWII.  It was a style that encompassed all areas of design, from fashion to graphic arts to architecture.  It was notably different from the curves and organic forms of Art Nouveau, the movement that preceded it.  A hallmark of Art Deco was symmetry and linear forms.  Drawing from ancient art and cubism and modernism, it was purely decorative without philosophical or political import.  There is one artist who embodied and defined the ornamental style of Art Deco.

L'arc en Ciel, 1929.  Harper's Bazaar cover design.

His name was Romain de Tirtoff, although he was called Roman Petrovich Tyrtov in his native Russia.  He was born in St. Petersburg in 1892 to an admiral of the Russian fleet.  He became famous as an artist with the pseudonym of Erté - the French pronunciation of his intials, R. T.  He used the pseudonym to avoid disgracing his family, which expected that he become a naval officer.

Costume design, 1923, for "The Marriage of Figaro"
for the Chicago Opera Company.
Costume design, 1923, "Woman with Wings"
for the Folies Bergère.

When he was a young boy he became intrigued with Persian miniatures he found in his father's library.  He created his first costume when he was five. The exotic and brightly-colored patterns and designs influenced his style.  He had a profound influence on the entire Art Deco movement.  He forged a new path when he was 75, working in bronze and serigraphy.  This brought about a rebirth in popularity of Art Deco in the 1960s, which was a boost for him as he had become relatively obscure in the 1940s and 1950s.  This was the time of WWII, and people sought more practical things.

"Cleopatre" produced in 1986.

"Samson and Delilah" produced in 1980.

He moved to Paris to begin a career as a designer in his twenties.  His career took off with his work for Harper's Bazaar magazine, where he designed over 200 covers between 1915 - 1937.  He also did illustrations for other magazines, including Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and Ladies Home Journal.

"Aquarium", 1923, cover for Harper's Bazaar.

"Seagulls", 1938, cover for Harper's Bazaar.

Soon he was doing fashion design and creating stage sets.  His costumes and program designs were featured in the Folies Bergère and the Ziegfield Follies.  This was the 1920s and the Art Deco movement was in full swing.  His work captures the giddy spirit of the "Roaring Twenties".

"Mermaids" from 1926.

Curtain design from "The Oriental Ballet", 1925, while at MGM.

In 1920 he designed the costumes and set for a Marion Davies movie financed by William Randolph Hearst.  He went to Hollywood in 1925, to design sets and costumes for a silent film by Louis B. Mayer.  This film - Paris - had many problems with the script, so while this was being sorted out Erté worked on other projects, one of which was the film Ben-Hur.

"Ebony" a 1982 graphic.

The letter "L" from his alphabet, 1976.

During his "second career" in the 1960s, he also did jewelry, furniture, fabrics, interior designs, sculpture and produced limited edition prints.  His flamboyant style and his talents assured him longevity as an artist.  He died in 1990 at the age of 97, being one of those artists who knew fame and acclaim during his lifetime.  His work can be seen in museums and galleries all over the world.

His famous signature, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Unless otherwise noted, images courtesy of www.erte.com.