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Now On: Fashion Illustration from Erte


The Russian-born painter Romain de Tirtoff simply called himself Erte after the French pronunciation of his initials. One of the greatest fashion, stage and illustrative artists of the 20’s and 30’s, Erte’s work captures elegance, glamour and decorative extravagance.

While his career would peak and trough across the decades Erte’s work would span a very lengthy 75 years. Born in St Petersburg in 1892, Erte displayed extraordinary creativity at the young age of 6 by sketching his first successful costume design for his mother Natalia Mikhailova. His talent was hard to ignore and by 1912 he was permitted by his father to move to Paris to begin his career as a fashion illustrator. It wasn’t long before Erte’s illustrations were regularly featured in Harper’s Bazaar, occasionally making appearances on the cover. The Erte/Harper’s Bazaar collaboration lasted 22 years and shaped the elegant and opulent style that is central to both the magazine and Erte’s art.

Not only known for his illustrations, Erte designed the most extravagant and glamorous costumes and stage sets for the likes of Folies-Bergere in Paris and George White’s Scandals in New York. During his early years in Paris Erte designed dresses for the famous French couturier Paul Poiret and he continued to utilize his design skills by taking on additional projects for musicals, ballet and the theatre.

However, it wasn’t all plain sailing for the multitalented artist, a crash in the stock market in 1929 hit just after two of Erte’s successful exhibitions – leaving him seriously out of pocket. Erie, never-the-less, pressed on and continued to work on a variety of projects. Typically, of the fashion world, interest in Erte’s work started to wane after the 1930s, but was rediscovered by a brand new generation during the 1960s. His sinuous lines, creative use of colour and art nouveau style proved to be huge source of inspiration.

Fashionable or not, Erte worked continuously and proved to be a tremendous influence on several generations of artists and fashion designers. His very last major project was completed at the age of 88, when he designed the striking costumes for the Broadway musical ‘Stardust’. Erie died at the grand old age of 98 having spent most of his life devoted to creativity, he was called the ‘prince of the music hall’ and ‘a mirror of fashion for 75 years’ (Wentworth Gallery).

Now, once again, there is an increased enthusiasm for Erte’s work, some of which can now be seen at the Robert Sandelson gallery in central London. Erie has become a firm favourite with art collectors and this certainly reflects in the price pinned next to each piece. One of Erte’s most famous works – Alphabet, where elegantly styled figures wearing dramatic accessories form each letter of the alphabet, is currently for sale at the gallery at an eye-popping price. Many of the pieces on display were created with ink and gouache, plus you can view a few of the artists sketches and sculptures.

Erie’s work is on show until July 31st and is well worth the visit.

Erie @ Robert Sandelson Gallery, 5, Cork Street, London W1. (020 7439 1001)

(Just behind the Royal Academy)

By JoJo Iles



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