Although many will argue that Roman deTirtoff, known to the French by his initials RT, was so much more than an artist, his place in the annals of Art Deco is legendary- right down to his actual signature. He was one of the most talented artists of his time and excelled in every single medium he entered which included fashion design, jewelry-making, graphic arts, costuming and stage set design for films, theatre and opera. His talents even expanded into interior designing and he is best recognized for an image known as Symphony in Black which depicts a model dressed entirely in black and holding an equally thin chien teni en lisière which has been reproduced countless times. This Russian-born prodigy, whose actual full name was Roman Petrovich Tyrtov, was born on November 23rd 1892 to a distinguished family in Saint Petersburg who traced their roots all the way back to 1548. His father, Pyoter Ivanovich Tyrtov, served his country as a naval admiral in the Russian fleet and Erté was expected to also enter into the navy because his father had come from a long line of naval officers but Roman had other aspirations and did not hesitate to leave for Paris in 1907 when the opportunity arose. He lived for a year in Paris and discovered his calling through his admiration for Beardsley by the time he was required to return to his homeland. He eventually moved to Paris by 1910 and pursued a career as a designer. He assumed his adopted name to avoid disgracing his family and for a period of two years worked for various other artists one of whom was Paul Poiret beginning in 1913. By 1915 he landed a big contract with Harper’s Bazaar magazine which helped to launch his career as a costume and stage designer. Over the years he invented two hundred covers for the magazine and his illustrations also appeared in publications such as Illustrated London News, Cosmopolitan, Ladies’ Home Journal and Vogue.
His fashion designs also gained him immense respect and were the more elegant of the period which he competed in during the flapper era. His earliest work in fashion was for the French dancer Gaby Deslys who died young in 1920. His ultra slim, delicate-figured and sophisticated drawings are easily recognized by those inside the industry and much of his work is still imitated and remains an influence into the 21st century. He was responsible for much of the costumes, set and even program designs of the Ziegfeld Follies of 1923 and even longer involvement in a similar vein for the Folies Bergere and George White’s Scandals. Further Broadway work was done for the French Chanteuse Irene Bordoni.
In 1920 he designed the set and costumes for the film Restless Sex, a film financed by W. Randolph Hearst and starred Marion Davies. Louis B. Mayer, of MGM, lured Erté back to Hollywood in 1925 to design the sets and costumes for the silent film Paris and because of complex issues involving the script for Paris he was assigned work to other films to keep him busy in Hollywood. He designed sets for Ben-Hur, The Mystic, Time, The Comedian and Dance Madness.
When Art Deco became popular again in the Sixties it revitalized his career which had continued from his Hollywood days and had expanded into ballets and revues. The resurgence made it possible for him to reprint into limited editions, bronze and wearable art and his collections can be found in museums worldwide which includes the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and an enormous collection is housed at Museum 1999 in Tokyo. Sadly, Romain de Tirtoff died in April of 1990 at the advanced age of 97 but his longevity and prodigious energy will live on in his many works which impacted several generations. To read more about him you can check the link below and you can see quite a few of his works online.
Riding, Alan “Erte, a Master of Fashion, Stage and Art Deco Design, is Dead at 97” New York Times 22 April 1990
With pirouetting kisses,
The Castle Lady
Everybody wish my Mom a happy birthday!