Erté: a true renaissance man of Art Deco

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Oh is THAT Art Deco?

It is safe to say that we have all been exposed to Art Deco and Art Nouveau at one point or another. We see references to these styles everywhere!  So much so, that people have a hard time telling them apart.  XIX century art had deep roots in classical and academic art.  As we progress down the XX century, organic shapes became an inspiration to all artists.  Art Nouveau was born asa reaction to the art of the XIX century.  Art Deco took it one step further.  It merged the love for organic shapes with and seen in Art Nouveau, and added the beauty of the era’s new found love of machines.  In fact, this style is the chronological midpoint between Art Nouveau and Futurism.


Sound it out

Let me introduce the featured artist of the day: Erté.  Romain de Tirtoff was a Russian-born French artist who dabbled in every single art form he could.  Tirtoff adopted his pseudonym “Erté” from the sound of spelling his initials in french, R.T.  He was a true Renaissance man of the early XX century. Well known for his fashion design, interior decor and graphic arts, he has become a timeless inspiration and reference in the world of illustration. 

A night out: the art of Fashion Ilustration

Perhaps one of his best known works is Symphony in Black.  It serves as a great reference point to this artist’s genius.  His understanding of the figure allowed for a flat, graphic approach that is not void of dimension.  Erté’s fabrics and textures give the information necessary for us to appreciate the full figure and fashion choices for a night at the theater.  —-insert symphony in black image—

Details, details, details

Purity shows just how crucial his attention to detail is.  Artists today have started reclaiming traditional techniques instead of relying on digital media. Erté’s work shines as a bright example once again.  In this piece, he is able to provide the viewer with a three-dimensional experience through his detail on the cape, perhaps showing a special knit pattern or a choice of lace.  Even through the tonal flatness, we are able to appreciate all the flaps and folds of the fabric as it falls from her arms down to the floor. —insert purity image —


Personally, his most fascinating work are the magazine covers he illustrated, specially the ones for Harper’s Bazaar.  Although the battle had been lost to photography, magazines today have began using illustration again.  They started using them on special editions, but have trickled down into a few regular ones.  According to Harper’s Bazaar webpage, Erté signed a contract with the magazine and worked with them for 21 years starting in 1915. “He contributed original fashion drawings, but it was his spectacular cover art that set him apart.  His love of color and his elaborate couture designs put the magazine at the forefront of creative innovation.” ( Regardless of what area your are looking into, from set design to haute couture to commercial illustration, Erté has provided his input into most, if not all, artistic disciplines. 

—images of covers


In my opinion…

He leaves behind an interesting legacy as we have stumbled into an area where specialization of labor (and interests) has made pigeon-holing yourself into one expertise the best option.  Social media provides a very interesting perspective.  Although we like seeing people who are jack of all trades, we are most amazed by those profiles were we see artists develop their one thing to its furthest extent.  I understand this is a productivity hack, as I myself have read the book, but it raises an important question: should we refrain from wondering into other areas and explore their impact on our work?  What are your thoughts? Let me know what you think!