I've never really heard of Erte. Until recently, when we had a few of his pieces come to Alpha Voyage Gallery. He was known for his fashion illustrations, a set designer, and a master of the Art Deco Style.
Romain de Tirtoff was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, on November 23, 1892, of an aristocratic, musical family loyal to the tsar. His father descended from a Tartar Khan named Tirt and ranked as an admiral in the Imperial Naval School. The noble de Tirtoff family had always followed naval careers since Peter the Great. His mother was also an aristocrat of Cossack descent; one of her brothers, Nicholas, was military governor of St. Petersburg. Rimsky-Korsakov, the Russian composer, was one of the friends of the family.
Throughout his long life, Romain's ideal of feminine beauty was his mother's pale skin and dark eyes and hair. He was already designing clothes for her at the age of five, aided by the family's resident dressmaker. She took him on aristocratic summer tours abroad all over Europe while his father was on naval maneuvers.
Before World War I, the Russian capital city was elegant and replete with theater, music, the arts, and fashion. Three imperial theaters dominated, where young Romain could enjoy opera (he saw Rimsky-Korsakov's Sadko at the age of seven in the family's permanent box in the Maryinsky Theater) Ballets Russes of the famed Diaghilev. His mother took him on shopping expeditions on fashionable Nevsky Prospekt, where he was enthralled by the couturier's craft. In later years, he remembered that he hated uniformed school in his early teens and could hardly wait until school was out to pick up his painting and designing again.