Erte’s Topaz, a part of his Precious Stones Suite, is a November gem of a different sort. It’s inspired by one of November’s traditional birthstones. (The other two being citrine and tigerseye. Since topaz also inspired a piece by Mucha, I think topaz is hogging the limelight…)
I’ve known of Erte for a long time, and in many ways he’s my touchstone image for Art Deco, but outside of knowing his style I never thought much too much about him.
So I hadn’t stopped to think about that iconic name, as streamlined and deco as his art. Not a surprise that it’s a pseudonym. I always link Erte to Paris, so it was a little more of a surprise is that he was born in Russia. His birth name was Romain de Tirtoff. He used the French pronunciation of his initials to distance himself from his career military family.
Erte was famous for his Art Deco fashion and set designs. Born in 1892 he was lucky enough to not only enjoy being part of the emergence of deco in the 1920s, but lived help its revival in the 1960s and his enduring influence on art and the fashion industry.
Citrine, tiger’s eye, and topaz have all attributed to November birthdays. And while I’m not big on limiting myself to any single type of stone (even though my birthstone is opal, which I adore), it’s always fun to dabble in the stones of the season! Especially when they come in such wonderful rich colors. Here are some of my favorite November gems.
And here’s another. In 1900, the artist Alphonse Mucha created a series images inspired by different gem stones (he’d already done the times of day and flowers) and one of the ones he created was Topaz.
Topaz, by Alphonse Mucha
By this time he was already a well established artist. He’d taken Paris by storm at the very end of 1894 with a poster he knocked out in a few weeks for a Sarah Bernhardt play. The poster was such a hit (presumably the play was as well) and he designed several other posters for her. His flowing lines and pastel colors were strikingly different from the bolder colors of many advertisements of the time. (With the flowing hair and sort of vaguely classical/medieval outfits I tend to think of him as a distant cousin to the much less stylized but also ‘flowy’ Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood.) In the year of the creation of the Precious Stones series the style he’d created, which had once been called Style Mucha, became known as Art Nouveau.
Supposedly he tried to distance himself from being labeled Art Nouveau after the style took off on it’s own, and was troubled by his commercial successes, worried that it wasn’t real art. He spend a good chunk of the rest of his life trying to prove he hadn’t sold out.
Look at the quality of the design and the detail. It’s amazing how great the art in advertisements for things like beer and chocolate and champagne used to be. And sad that someone who put so much effort into it couldn’t realize that it was real art.