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Russian-French artist Erté, at the Sonnabend Gallery, New York City, in 1970. Photo Credit: Bernard Gotfryd.

Monotony engenders boredom, and I have never been bored in my life.”
— Erté

Presented in collaboration with Galerie Ary Jan, Paris

Glamorous fashions, aesthetic experimentation and a cultural revolution... The Art Deco period remains one of the most influential artistic periods of the 20th century and continues to capture our imaginations over a century later. Emerging between the two World Wars, the Art Deco style offered a visual escape, a celebration of opulence and a reflection of the modern era’s aspirations. Transforming skylines, furniture, jewelry, art and textiles, the movement bridged the gap between the traditional and the avant-garde.

Known as the “Father of Art Deco,” Erté was a trailblazer whose colorful creations shaped the groundbreaking movement more than any other. Spending his youth in his native Russia before moving to Paris in 1912, the artist drew from a rich cultural milieu, melding Classicism and Orientalism with his distinctive visual language. He quickly became a tastemaker for performers, members of international high society and modern Parisians alike. Erté forged friendships with the era’s greatest stars, and his designs, whether in the pages of Harper’s Bazaar or on the stages of Paris and beyond, left an indelible mark on the visual aesthetics of the 20th century.

Erté and the Era of Art Deco brings together over 160 of Erté’s original gouaches with period jewelry, furniture and objets d’art to explore the artist’s incomparable impact on the Art Deco movement.

Mistinguett (1875-1956), French singer of variety. Paris, Moulin-Rouge. Photo credit: common source.

The captivating alliance between the Erté and the flourishing performing arts scene of Paris transported audiences to new realms throughout the early 20th century. Erté quickly forged relationships with luminaries of the performing arts world — including Zizi Jeanmaire, Roland Petit and Misinguett — and leant his distinctive Art Deco vision to operatic and theater productions. These collaborations rose above mere aesthetic embellishments, penetrating to the core of performances and adding greater depth to the narratives on display. The artist possessed a great range of vision and was equally adept at capturing Rococo decadence in the sets of Cosi Fan Tutti as he was in creating supernatural, moody interiors for Les Mamelles de Tirésias. His Art Deco stylings brought both a fantasy and modernity to the stage that has rarely been matched since. Parrying the spectacle of these fantastical productions, fashion grew more opulent, with luxury canes, pocketwatches and compacts becoming essentials for a modern Parisian.

Cartier Art Deco Pocket Watch. Circa 1920.

Erté’s influence on opera and theater was transformative. His designs for costumes and sets were not only visually striking but also deeply intertwined with the narratives they complemented.

Roland Petit was a transformative figure in 20th-century ballet, known for infusing contemporary and theatrical elements into classical ballet traditions. Petit’s innovative choreographies brought him great renown and celebrity, and his partnerships with Erté were characterized by a harmonious synthesis of dance and visual spectacle. In Quatre danseurs renard, Erté designs four whimsical yet glamorous fox costumes for Petit's show.

Roland Petit et Zizi. Photo Credit: Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris.

Quatre danseurs renard
(Four fox dancers)

Signed “Erté” (lower right)

Gouache on paper

Signed “Erté” (lower right)
Gouache on paper

Erté's prowess in costume design was unmistakably profound, marked by his nuanced comprehension of the human form, character arc and fluidity of movement. However, his set designs stood as paragons in their own right, brimming with innovation and deep artistic introspection. In his set for La Princesse Lointaine, Erté contemporizes the medieval world, employing modernist shapes and palettes, yet evoking an aura of ancient splendor. His dexterous manipulation of light and shadow imparts remarkable depth to the two-dimensional canvas. Beyond this, an urban silhouette bathed in dreamy purples and fervent reds is silhouetted against the luminosity of a setting sun, enhancing the dramatic milieu. The term "la princesse lointaine," immortalized by Edmond Rostand's celebrated play, embodies the trope of the elusive princess, representing a love that's both idealized and perpetually out of reach. Erté's palette, a harmonious blend of romantic hues, not only echoes the narrative's core sentiments but also magnifies the grandeur essential for such an epic performance.

Décor pour La Princesse Lointaine
Signed “Erté” (center right)
Gouache on paper

Thanks to the breadth of the artist’s cultural experiences in his youth, Erté’s visionary Art Deco style looked to both the glory of the ancient world and the allure of Eastern artistic traditions. Erté melded the iconic motifs of ancient Greece and Rome with modern sensuality and style in his costuming and set design, particularly for the performances of ancient tales like Helen of Sparta and Hercules. The artist also prominently showcased Asian-inspired designs and a growing appreciation for non-Western aesthetics. These influences did not just impact Erté. The allure of the Orient found resonance within the geometric precision emblematic of the Art Deco style, and luxury makers from Boucheron and Tiffany & Co. to Cartier embraced these cultural inspirations.

It was an age of miracles, it was an age of art, it was an age of excess, and it was an age of satire.”
— F. Scott Fitzgerald

Signed “Erté” (lower right)
Gouache and silver on paper

Jade Jewelry Suite by Boucheron. Circa 1930.

Eros, the god of love and yearning, is traditionally portrayed as a cherubic-winged youth wielding a potent bow and arrow. Born from Aphrodite, the goddess of love and allure, Eros has the power to make both deities and mortals fall hopelessly in love with the first being they lay eyes upon. Although he is often associated with light-hearted passion, his mythological escapades often spiral into intricate and unforeseen problems for both celestial beings and mortals. Erté, with his masterful touch, captures the duality of Eros in a dazzling floral ensemble. The deity, rendered with kaleidoscopic wings and a matching bodice, embodies a blend of playful charm and subtle distrust.

Helen of Sparta, more commonly known as Helen of Troy, is one of the most famous female figures in ancient Greek mythology. She was considered the most beautiful woman in the world, and her abduction by Paris, the prince of Troy, sparked the Trojan War. Here, Erté depicts Helen of Sparta, "the face that launched a thousand ships," as an embodiment of regality, draped in jewels and crowned by a parasol. The dramatic interplay of vivid red tendrils and a stark black backdrop casts Helen as the ultimate icon, poised under the ethereal spotlight.


Hélène de Sparte
Signed “Erté” (lower right)
Gouache on paper

Erté designed this costume for a 1919 production of Les Rois des Légendes, a performance that showcased a variety of legendary kings from throughout history. Erté carefully rendered this exquisitely detailed costume for Le roi de Lahore in vivid purple and red pigments. The king, ruler of Lahore in the Punjab region of modern India and Pakistan, displays all the trappings of royal wealth. Long strands of pearls hang from his clothing, while crimson gemstones adorn his headpiece and belt. Finished with a long curved sword, the costume synthesizes Orientalist imagery and Erté’s own Art Deco sensibilities.

Le roi de Lahore (The King of Lahore)
Signed “Erté” (lower right)
Ink and gouache on paper

Art Deco Candelabra. 
Circa 1930.

Paris emerged as a beacon of hope and rejuvenation following the upheaval of the First World War. The city attracted innumerable international figures, from Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Picasso to Gertrude Stein, each drawn to Paris for its artistic vitality. Parisian high society flocked to opulent parties and balls, with the city’s elite showcasing the latest haute couture creations. Erté’s sartorial masterpieces found acclaim among many fashionistas and socialites, who often viewed his designs in publications such as Harper’s Bazaar. Simultaneously, the American film industry expanded rapidly, and early starlets turned to Paris as the world’s epicenter for modern fashion. Not only did Erté design opulent, highly modern gowns for these rising stars, but he also briefly worked at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, creating costumes for the silver screen’s earliest celebrities.

In these Hollywood-inspired designs, Erté’s designs seamlessly meld his signature Art Deco sensibilities with the essence of haute couture. Radiating in gilded splendor, each meticulously crafted gown hugs the female form, exuding an aura of elegance and grandeur. Hollywood, from its nascent days in the early 20th century, carved its niche as the crucible of cinematic prowess and innovation. Parallel to its meteoric rise was the birth of the Hollywood star system, which skillfully sculpted and elevated the luminaries of the silver screen, introducing the world to the magnetic allure of "stardom." Erté's association with MGM offered him an insider's perspective into the lavish world of early Hollywood legends, infusing his designs with a touch of cinematic opulence.

Une étoile de Hollywood II  (Hollywood Star II)
Signed “Erté” (lower right)
Gouache on paper

Une étoile de Hollywood I (Hollywood Star I)
Signed “Erté” (lower right)
Gouache on paper

Considered one of the great Art Deco jewelers, Raymond Yard was renowned for his designs that display high-quality gemstones in exquisitely crafted platinum settings. In an age of American enterprise, the iconic New York jeweler created one-of-a-kind jewels for famous clients, including the Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, Woolworths and DuPonts. Credited with elevating the Art Deco aesthetic to new heights, his classic designs are highly coveted by fine jewelry collectors.

Aquamarine and Diamond Tiara by Raymond Yard.

Mistinguett (1875-1956). Moulin Rouge, Paris. Source.

Paris in the Art Deco era stood at the crossroads of tradition and modernity, establishing itself as a global epicenter of art, literature and intellectual thought. Amidst the echoes of World War I, avant-garde movements like Surrealism and Cubism intermingled with jazz melodies wafting through the city’s smoky salons. As cocktails flowed, intellectuals, writers and artists from around the world found themselves drawn to the cosmopolitan allure of Paris. Erté, with his revolutionary costuming and otherworldly sets, was perfectly poised to unleash his creativity. He worked with many of the the city’s premier entertainment venues, and his striking visuals, full of bold patterns and vibrant colors, came to define the modernity of the era.

If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.“
— Ernest Hemingway

Signed “Erté” (lower right)
Gouache on paper

With his design L’Oubliée, Erté channels the audacious spirit of the flapper – a beacon of the Jazz Age's defiance and exuberance. These groundbreaking women danced to their rhythm, challenging societal conventions with iconic fashion and liberated demeanor. L’Oubliée, radiant in a jewel-laden gown, bold makeup and fiery coiffure, stands poised to enchant audiences, evoking the magnetic allure of a Parisian cabaret evening.

Cartier Playing Card Brooches & Cuff. Circa 1938.

In the artistic heart of Paris, where Surrealist art studios and grand cabarets coexisted, Erté masterfully intertwined dream and reality. His Le cinéma cochon embodies this fusion. As a product of the intellectual movement of Surrealism, mixing the real with the absurd, a figure, wearing a cinematic gown featuring playful pigs, is crowned with a vibrant hat adorned with abstract eyes. This evocative piece encapsulates the era's imaginative spirit.

Le cinéma cochon
Signed “Erté” (lower right)
Gouache on paper

Ce n’est que votre main, Madame
(It's only your hand, Madame)

Signed “Erté” (lower right)
Gouache on paper

Erté’s association with Harper's Bazaar spanned over two decades, and he produced over 240 covers for the magazine, crafting its visual identity and setting its artistic direction. His illustrations, characterized by sleek lines, intricate patterns and bold color palettes were forward-thinking and broke away from earlier, more traditional styles.  Beyond mere illustration, Erté's designs often anticipated or even dictated fashion trends. His imaginative depictions of garments, accessories and motifs influenced the sartorial choices of the era as designers found inspiration in his visionary works, translating them from page to textile. By publishing his fashion designs, Erté played a role in democratizing high couture, making it accessible to a wider, perhaps more creative, audience.

In January 1922, Erté published this opulent afternoon tea gown titled Ce n’est que votre main (It's only your hand, Madame), Madame in Harper’s Bazaar. Here, he adeptly renders a design that is both glamorous and humorous. The redhead's gloves have seemingly fallen off and transformed into her long-trained skirt. Her jewels, coiffed hair and elegant pose toe the line between sophistication and camp. It is highly likely that a bold member of high society would have worn this ensemble to an opulent party or ball, eagerly showcasing the latest haute couture creations.

The Roaring Twenties, as visualized through the lens of Art Deco, was an era of juxtapositions: the trauma of war gave way to unbridled optimism, while tradition seamlessly intertwined with avant-gardism. Erté, as a luminous beacon in this exuberant age, illustrated how the boundaries of time and culture could be transcended through art. His works, pulsating with vivacity and imbued with elegance, encapsulate the very essence of the era. Through Erté's masterful creations and the myriad artifacts of the era, we are reminded of the timeless nature of art and its unique capacity to capture, reflect and shape the human experience.

Signed “Erté” (lower right)
Gouache on paper

Ave Maria
Signed “Erté” (center right)
Gouache on paper

Salade de fleurs de lotus (Lotus Flower Salad)
Signed “Erté” (lower right)
Gouache on paper


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Opening Party:

October 13 | 5:30pm - 8:00pm
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Exhibition Open:

October 14 - January 3, 2024  

Monday - Saturday
9:00 am - 5:15 pm


Exhibition Location:

630 Royal Street
New Orleans, LA 70130

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