Born Romain de Tirtoff on November 23, 1892, in St. Petersburg, Russia, Erte began his fashion career at the age of six, when his mother had a dress made from one his first sketches. He arrived in Paris in 1912 armed with little more than the determination to become a successful fashion designer. The name Erte came into being during these early days in Paris, partly as a way to ensure privacy for his family back in Russia. Romain de Tirtoff was shortened to the acronym RT, and as pronounced in both French and Russian, became "Erte".
Erte began to climb to international fame at the great fashion house of Paul Poiret where, on occasion, he even modeled his own dress designs. With the onset of World War I in Europe, many of the great fashion houses shut down and Erte began what would turn into a 22-year affiliation with the American Magazine "Harper's Bazaar". His many illustrations graced not only the covers, but filled the pages as well.
During these years, theatrical design absorbed much of Erte's creative energy, including a brief stint in Hollywood with the MGM studio. Erte had a special passion for the elaborate French burlesque costumes for which he became renowned. He enjoyed the challenge of creating costumes for the "naked" burlesque dancers. And before the stock market crash in 1929, he had two very successful exhibitions. During the Depression, financial hardship beset the artist; however, Erte continued to design not only for the theater, but for ballet and opera as well.
Erte and his transitional Art Deco Style enjoyed a resurgence of popularity in the mid-sixties with his Paris exhibition of "formes Picturales", a group of painted sculptures of various materials (iron, copper, roots and wood). In the late sixties, the Metropolitan Museum of Art purchased an entire collection of 179 works from Erte's exhibition in New York. Erte is widely credited with the creation of the field of limited edition graphics as it is known today. At age 88, Erte began his work in bronze sculpture, achieving equal success with the medium.
Before he died on April 21, 1990, Erte worked diligently during the last three years of his life on the 71 graphics that are illustrated in the "Erte, The Last Works, Graphics-Sculpture" by Eric Estorick. The Last Works book was assembled during Erte's lifetime and published shortly after his death, so that every possible graphic and sculpture release yet to come would be catalogued.