All About Erté

All About Erté - Common Thread Style

Often referred to as one of the founders of Art Deco, Romain de Tirtoff was a Russian-born, French artist and designer who had a spectacularly colourful life. This man’s talents knew no bounds and he seemed to always follow his bliss, working in many fields including fashion, jewellery, graphic arts, interior decor.  He also found success in costume and set design for film, theatre and opera.

The DIVA 1984, signed Seriograph, edition 181/300. 


When we spotted “The Diva” leaning up against the counter of a well-travelled antique store, we knew we had to snap her up.  The striking figure in the serigraph (181/300) reminded us of Josephine Baker. The Diva is posing in a flapper style dress and bejewelled headdress, with a red and blue parrot positioned as if holding up the costume by a pearl over her left shoulder. The parrot’s colourful tail is almost as long as the subject is tall and the stamped foil detail catches the light like an abalone shell. Her elegant, slim form against the white background is perfect.  At the time we knew very little about the Erté signature in the bottom right quarter of the serigraph, now we are big fans! 


 Young Erté around 1915

Born in 1892, Romain was passionate about dance, painting and drawing from a young age, shaping his love of the female form and the performing arts. Also fascinated by the ancient cultures of Egypt, Greece, Rome, India and China, he absorbed book after book. This early interest in other cultures is obvious in his graphic art and sculptures. When he visited Paris in 1900 to attend the Paris Exhibition with his mother and sister, he was just 7 years old.  The bustling vibrant city left a lasting impression on him and in 1912 at age 19 he left Russia forever and moved to Paris to pursue his dreams.

Tirtoff was soon offered a job in the famous fashion house of Paul Poiret and started creating sketches of dresses, coats, hats and accessories. It was during this time that he assumed the pseudonym Erté, which combines the initials of his name R and T, pronounced AIR-TEY in French.  During this period Erté worked with famous painter José Zamora, perfecting his drawing style and technique.  His elegant and colourful style was full of imagination and originality and his designs captured the essence of Parisian life during the art deco period. A style that would bring him fame and fortune for the rest of his vibrant life.

Erté loved mixing styles and was inspired by both ancient and modern. From Greek, Egyptian and Roman influences to the decadence of modern life in Paris, his art, like his life, is bursting with vibrant colours, luxurious fabrics, patterns and crazy colour combinations that leave his audience wanting more.  

Erté drew his first Harper’s Bazaar cover in 1915 and would create over 250 unique covers for the publication over the next twenty years. 

In the 1920’s, drawing on his childhood love of dance, Erté choreographed many numbers for Anna Pavlova’s dance company and made scenography for “Folies Berger” and its main attraction Josephine Baker, as well as The London Opera and Paris Grand Opera. Then from 1923 Erté worked in America creating incredible costumes for all the famous Broadway reviews. His creations were adored because of the combination of Parisian high fashion and Parisian cabaret, incorporating fine lines and stunning colours.  An invitation from Louis B. Mayer, owner of MGM in 1925 saw Erté creating costumes for films such as “Ben-Hur," “La Boheme,” “Time, The Comedian” and “Madness Dance.”

 An Erté sculpture in Bronze.

In the 1960’s Erté became interested in sculpture, creating works in metal and then bronze, in the ancient technique of “lost Wax.” With this new medium he had found a way to bring his friends and girlfriends, costumes and graphic works to life.  When some might have expected Erté to be slowing down somewhat in his 70’s, he started designing mansions and country homes and villas for the rich and famous.  In the late 1960’s and early 70’s Erté enjoyed a revival of his already successful career as there was a resurgence of 20’s and 30’s art. Indeed, interest in him was at an all time high with books being published about his life and works and in 1975 he even published his memoirs.  Erté died after a sudden illness in 1990. His funeral was a vibrant as he was.  

There was something that drew us in immediately to Erté’s work. His pieces are both elegant and bright, with a timelessness that may be attributed to both the respect he had for ancient cultures and the glamour of Parisian life. He certainly had a passion for beauty and the female form.

At Common Thread style we steer clear of the predictable cookie cutter ideas and encourage clients to think outside of the box when decorating.  If we were styling a lounge room we might try mixing an Art Deco piece like The Diva with a sofa such as a tan Chesterfield adorned with a mix of throw cushions. We would maybe consider more modern side tables, a couple of Indochine lamps, an authentic oversized Moroccan rug and top it off with an Egyptian, Moroccan copper tray tea table. This mix of colours, textures and eras makes for a warm, unique and eclectic vibe with lots of soul. 


Georgina and Kimberley xx