Erté: an Art Deco Genius. Return to St Petersburg | ITSLIQUID

Erté: an Art Deco Genius. Return to St Petersburg

Fashion | August 6, 2016 | courtesy of The State Hermitage Museum

Erté: an Art Deco Genius. Return to St Petersburg

It has been organized by the State Hermitage in conjunction with the Grosvenor Gallery, London and with the support of the Martin Lawrence Gallery, New York. Erté was one of the most successful artists of the 20th century, whose talents found an outlet in the realms of fashion, applied graphic art, theatrical design, cinema, design, sculpture and many other fields. Roman Tyrtov was born in St Petersburg and from an early age he showed an interest in the theatre, painting, graphic art and clothing design. In 1912 he left Russia permanently and settled in Paris. In 1913–14 he worked as a fashion designer for the prominent couturier Paul Poiret, who shaped everything that was most important and revolutionary in Paris fashion at the start of the 20th centurySoon Tyrtov was already designing dresses and outfits that were being sold under the firm’s brand. courtesy of The State Hermitage Museum


It was then that his artistic pseudonym appeared, based on the French pronounciation of the initials of his first and last names. The young artist also assisted Poiret in his work on theatrical productions; the style of work was influenced by the sets and costumes Bakst created for Diaghilev’s touring company. Poiret’s sets and costumes for his first production, Jean Richepin’s comedy Le Minaret, were rated highly. Among the actresses taking part was the exotic dancer Mata Hari, whose costumes were deigned by Erté. In 1915 Erté signed a contract with the American magazine Harper’s Bazaar, whose January issue came out with a cover designed by him. For the next twenty years every issue of the American magazine was adorned by a colour picture drawn by the artist. He also wrote fashion notes and a society column and contributed drawings of outfits, accessories, hats, shoes, jewellery and interior designs. Erté also worked for Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Ladies’ Home Journal, The Sketch and other illustrated magazines in the USA, Britain and France. Following the magazines, the owners of the leading New York stores Henri Bendel and B. Altman and Company approached Erté with proposals to create fashion collections. courtesy of The State Hermitage Museum


Over a period of three years he produced two collections annually, moving ever further away from Poiret’s style: he invented the asymmetric neckline; the sporting look of his outfits for men and women acquired that common quality that later became known as unisex; he pioneered the use in men’s clothing of fabrics that had previously been reserved for female attire, such as velvet. During the First World War, there was a theatrical boom on the Côte d’Azur and Erté’s talents were in demand. In Monte Carlo he met Diaghilev, with whom he went on to collaborate on a Divertissement and several ballet miniatures for Anna Pavlova. Back in Paris in 1923 Erté worked on productions for cabarets – the Folies Bergère, Bataclan, Alhambra, Bal Tabarin and Lido – and theatres – Renaissance, Ambasssadors, Du Châtelet, Marigny, and Sarah Bernhardt’s, the Théâtre des Bouffes Parisiens, the Opéra Comique and the Palais Garnier. Erté’s projects were large-scale shows that succeeded one another, competing in inventivness, incredible imagination and scope.


Image courtesy of The State Hermitage Museum


In February 1925 Erté set off to Hollywood to create costumes and sets for two Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer films. His contract with MGM was prolonged and as a costume designer Erté worked for the studio’s leading stars, the best actresses of the silent screen. He created costumes and sets for some of the best known films of the period: Fred Niblo’s Ben Hur, King Vidor’s La Bohème, Robert Z. Leonard’s Dance Madness and Tod Browning’s The Mystic. In 1925 Erté first held an exhibition of his works in New York, at the Madison Hotel. The following year in Paris he gave an exhibition at the Galérie Charpentier of pieces produced in America. For the first time, some of his works were bought directly from the exhibition for state collections. After Second World War, Erté was no longer invited to work for magazines or commisioned to design haute couture. The revue as a genre ran to seed, becoming conservative. American commissions also dried up for a long time.


Erté: an Art Deco Genius. Return to St PetersburgImage courtesy of The State Hermitage Museum


The turnaround came in the mid-1960s with a revival of interest in Art Deco. In 1966 the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris held a retropective exhibition entitled “Les Années 25” that actually popularized the term Art Deco, while in New York they were celebrating the 100th anniversary of the magazine Harper’s Bazaar. In 1967, before the vernissage of the artist’s exhibition at the Grosvenor Gallery in New York, all 170 works displayed were acquired by the Metropolitan Museum. That was acknowledgement of Erté as a classic figure of 20th-century art, the “Genius of the Art Deco”. From the late 1960s to the end of his days, the master exhibited his works all around the world. In 1970 the first monograph about his art was published. Erté’s 80th birthday in 1972 was celebrated in Paris, New York, London and Geneva. Vogue devoted a special edition to him; the BBC made a TV programme about him that centred around an interview w ith the artist.


Erté: an Art Deco Genius. Return to St PetersburgImage courtesy of The State Hermitage Museum


In 1979 the Smithsonian Institute put together an exhibition that toured round the USA, Canada and Mexico for three years. In 1967 Erté designed a show for Expo 67, the World’s Fair in Montreal. In 1970 he began a collaboration with the star of the Parisian stage Zizi Jeanmaire and the choreographer Roland Petit, with whom he created several productions. The public eagerly bought Erté’s large-edition printed works, lithographs and silk screen prints. Alongside new works, the artist reproduced compositions of past years. Work on separate series was a constant feature of his art in later years. The Alphabet, printed in 1977, would become the artist’s most famous cycle. At the turn of the 1980s Erté developed an interest in metal sculpture and striking methods of finishing surfacespolishing, gilding, patination and the use of coloured lacquers. His last exhibition was titled “Theatre in Bronze”. In 1983 his achievements in art were commorated by membership of the French Legion of Honour, but the majority of the projects in the last decade of Erté’s life were connected with the United States.


Erté: an Art Deco Genius. Return to St PetersburgImage courtesy of The State Hermitage Museum


In 1989 he worked on two productions in New York. He was destined not to see the opening of his last production, an Easter show for Radio City in New York. The Hermitage exhibition, the first devoted to Erté to be held in Russia, presents 136 works from the private collection of Michael Estorick (Grosvenor Gallery, London) – watercolours and gouaches, pen-and-ink drawings, a few examples of prints and two sculptures. The parents of the present owner collected and sold works of art and handled Erté’s affairs during the last 20 years of the artist’s life. Only a small fraction of their collection of works by Erté has come to the Hermitage, but it is representative of his oeuvre from the earliest pieces (dating from 1912) to the very latest. There are designs produced for Parisian fashion houses before the First World War, drawings of costumes made for American and French fashion magazines, the covers for Harper’s Bazaar. Around half the exhibition consists of designs for various theatrical productions: sets and costumes for operas, music halls and Broadway shows. Also represented are the large graphic art series Numbers and Alphabet that became widely known due to the prints made from the original drawings.


The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg
From 22 June to 18 September, 2016



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