“My art, which is my life, is the only language through which I speak with the world.”
Through his work, Erté has become synonymous with timeless decadence and a bold avant garde modernist aesthetic. His creation embody, and for many people define Art Deco. Today, though, most people are familiar with his work only through photographs, fine art posters, and the variety of decorative collectibles he licensed during the art deco resurgence of the 1970s and 1980s. Which makes it all the more delightful to share three early original Harper’s Bazaar cover paintings by the master, recently acquired by the gallery.
“Being an ardent lover of beauty, I discover harmony of color in the very source of everlasting beauty – in Nature, who is my only teacher.”
The only son of a Russian admiral, Erté’s designs have a distinct Russian influence to them. The flatness and richness of Russian Orthodox icons are apparent in the smoothness and decadence of his works. As a young boy in Russia, Erté was also drawn to his father’s collection of Persian miniatures and he carried their exotic, brightly patterned designs into his aesthetic. It was this marriage of the traditional with the exotic that Erté was able to create something entirely modern and eternal.
“In the covers for Harper’s Bazar, I portray symbolic themes where life is interpreted by the language of my art; for, in my opinion, every event of life, every action of nature is explained satisfactorily by the emotions within me. I show this comparison between reality and the symbols my imagination creates in the form of color, for I believe that colors, taken from natures inner life, have as much meaning as music or the dance.”
Along with his work creating covers and fashion plates for Harper’s Bazaar, Erté was a tireless costumer for the theater and early Hollywood. Whichever format he chose to work in – stage, fashion, illustration, decorative arts – Erté possessed a unity of vision which he carried across mediums and decades.
Erté’s unique vision was developed and nurtured under the tutelage of Paul Poiret, a visionary designer who freed women from the corset (let’s all take a moment and say a silent “thank you” to Poiret) and pioneered the sexy, slinky silhouette that Erté would take further and develop into the sleek fashions of the liberated woman and the wild costumes of sultry Roaring Twenties Broadway showgirls.
His styles and designs were so modern, in fact, that his work was still seen as cutting edge, stylish, and significant fifty years later when Erté and Art Deco were rediscovered. This resurgence of interest in Erté and the movement that he created led to him marketing new decorative collectibles and artworks in the classic yet still modern Art Deco style. Erté and his designs have become so much a part of our visual culture that it is easy to forget just how one of a kind and pioneering he really was.
“Look at me, I’m in another world-a dream world that invites oblivion. People take drugs to achieve such freedom from their daily cares. I’ve never taken drugs. I’ve never needed them. I achieve a high through work.”