Illustrators: Harbinger of Tomorrow

In the giddy '20s, the prettiest birds of paradise who pranced across the stage of Ziegfeld's Follies and George White's Scandals were invariably festooned in confections of bangles and ostrich feathers whipped up by the designer known as Erte. He also created the lavish sets and languid costumes, trimmed with serpentine curlicues, that made some Metropolitan Opera productions beggar those of today. From 1915 to 1938, the lithe chiffon-draped mademoiselles that graced the covers of Harper's Bazaar were largely the work of Erté.

During his heyday, art experts generally dismissed Erté's chaste variety of Beardsleyish Orientalism as an evanescent fad,...

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