Nom de plume

His art is synonymous with the Art Déco era and you’ve almost certainly seen one of his illustrations. But you probably don’t know his real name. Romain de Tirtoff was born in Saint Petersburg, Russia, on November 23, 1892. His father was an admiral and he wanted his son to follow in his wake. So when he moved to Paris to become an artist, he took the pseudonym Erté based upon the French pronunciation of his initials, R. T. His most iconic design is “Symphony in Black,” a slender woman dressed in black with a greyhound on a leash.

In Paris, he got a job as an artist with fashion designer Paul Poiret, and then a contract designing covers for Harper’s Bazaar. Erté designed over 200 covers for them over a twenty-two year period. His designs were also featured in numerous other international magazines such a Vogue and Cosmopolitan. Erté was brought to Hollywood by Louis B. Mayer to design sets and costumes for silent films. He also designed sets for ballet and the opera.

With the revival of interest in Art Déco in the 60s, Erté had an upsurge in popularity. The savvy artist cashed in with licensed reproduction in print and bronze figurines as well as jewelry. He died on April 21, 1990.

Today’s expression is nom de plume (nom duh ploom), which literally means “feather name,” referring of course to the by-gone days when people used quill pens. We commonly use “pen name” and nom de plume interchangeably. When I was researching this post, one source referred to Erté’s name as a nom de plume, but this is not technically correct. Nom de plume should only be used for authors, while pseudonyme (sue-doe-neem), or “false name,” is the appropriate term for all other assumed names. Can you believe that a student thought I was serious this week when I made some quip about having used quills in school? She wasn’t even trying to be a smart aleck. I told her that while we may not have had PC’s, we certainly had ballpoint pens. She may need to use a nom de plume to sign her next quiz in my class!

Erté Fashion Paper Dolls of the 1920s

  • Erté. (

About Patricia Gilbert

Patricia Gilbert is a French teacher. She's Canadian, lives in the United States, but dreams of living in France. Follow her on Instagram @Onequalitythefinest and on Twitter @1qualthefinest.
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