This important original gouache painting by Erté, the father of Art Deco, was created as a cover illustration for Harper’s Bazaar and was published in December 1932. Erté had a more than twenty year association with the magazine, and during that period created upwards of two hundred covers for the title, defining their sophisticated take on fashion and high society. Few of these covers are known to survive, and it is exceedingly rare for examples of Erté original cover paintings to come to market.
La Fiancée is one of his most well known and popular works, showing a delicately featured beautiful maiden in dramatic orientalist headdress, being greeted by a winged sprite. The woman, seen in dramatic profile, has a delicate string of pearls running from her engagement ring to a small lock, for which the puckish hero has a key, hence the title. This painting dates to the mid 1920s, verso notations show that it was originally intended to appear as the May, 1925 cover of Harper’s Bazar. It’s unclear why the cover did not appear until 1932, and when it did appear, why the male figure was obscured, but it is worth noting how fashion forward and avant garde Erté’s art was–nearly a decade after its creation, Erté’s work remained cutting edge, and reflective of the groundbreaking sensibility of the magazine. As was common at the time of publication, slight variations of the cover were printed, some showing cover text highlights of the articles inside, some wordless. We have shown both versions, for reference, and are in the process of trying to locate a copy to include with sale. Painting is housed in a remarkable museum quality gesso frame custom made by our colleagues at The Dream Gardener in Seattle.
La Fiancée is one of Erte’s defining creations. The 1970s saw a revival of interest in art deco, and the still active Erté took advantage of his renewed fame, and enjoyed a lucrative and productive second act, revisiting some of his favorite images. At this time, the artist designed a brooch based on the then 50 year old design. Its still timeless aesthetic is seen below.
Provenance: – Sotheby’s, London (October 28, 1982)
Cover painting retains the original backboard inscribed by Romain de Tirtoff, Couverture No 97. “La Fiancée”. Pour la copie du Mai 1925, and in the same hand 1924.
Verso also shows Harper’s Bazar inventory stamp and the estate stamp of Romain de Tirtoff.
The Russian-born painter Romain de Tirtoff, who called himself Erté after the French pronunciation of his initials, was one of the foremost fashion and stage designers of the early twentieth century. From the sensational silver lamé costume, complete with pearl wings and ebony-plumed cap, that he wore to a ball in 1914, to his magical and elegant designs for the Broadway musical Stardust in 1988, Erté pursued his chosen career with unflagging zest and creativity for almost 80 years. On his death in 1990, he was hailed as the “prince of the music hall” and “a mirror of fashion for 75 years”.