Theatre Costumes and Illustrations
Romain de Tirtoff known as Erté (1892-1990)
Various years, Tempera on paper
Erté, the son of a Russian lieutenant-general, moved to Paris in 1912 at the age of only nineteen, where he worked as a costume designer in the studio of Paul Poiret. The period he spent alongside the revolutionary French fashion designer encouraged his natural inclination for fashion and illustration, which became the areas in which he was able to best express his creativity. It also allowed him to come into contact with the world of theatre and entertainment, and he created his first sketches during this early period for what would become a successful career as a costume and set designer. Among the sketches for stage costumes in the Franco Maria Ricci collection are the tempera paintings of the 'hay' skirt and the 'horseshoe' dress, created in 1926 for Scandals, a series of music magazines published between 1919 and 1939. Erté devoted himself to designing covers and illustrations for art, fashion, and costume magazines such as Vogue, Gazette du Bon Ton, and Art et Industrie. His most significant collaboration, however, was with Harper's Bazaar, with whom he signed an exclusive contract from 1915 to 1937, producing over two hundred designs in total. Despite the apparent repetitiveness of the subject matter, Erté was able to devise infinite variations on the theme, achieving extraordinarily imaginative and original results, alternating images of modern, contemporary women with enchanted, mysterious, bewitching, and seductive figures. Also deserving of mention is the design of the famous Mannequin Head for Pierre Imans in "La Reine de Saba”, recognized as one of the most representative emblems of his style. The work did not originate as a stand-alone, but was a design for a mannequin depicting a young black woman. The Pierre Imans firm was among the first to offer dark-skinned wax mannequins inspired by the particular exotic beauty of Joséphine Baker, a naturalized French African American dancer and singer.