Ask a Worthologist: The Erté Bronze

Romain de Tirtoff, known to the art world as Erté, licensed bronzes to be produced in the 1980s. Today, prices vary widely, depending where you look.

Debra B. picked up a figure at a charity auction and has done some research on her own, but she’s puzzled about values for it. Her questions regarding this piece were forwarded on to me via Worthpoint’s “Ask a Worthologist” service:

“I bid $1,500 on this incredible Erté bronze at a charity auction because I’d never seen anything like it. It was very Art Deco-looking but more elaborate than many I’ve seen from that period. It also looked brand new to me. The notation on the identification card verified my first impression—it wasn’t brand new but was part of a limited edition made during the 1980s. I did some checking online and found that they were based on the work of Romain de Tirtoff , a Russian Art Deco–period costume designer and artist who worked in France and went by the name of Erté. I found more than 60 different figurines, and the values for some of them were 10 times what I paid for mine. I don’t plan on selling it but would like to know what would be a reasonable value for mine.”

Looking at your images, your piece is one that’s titled “La Coquette,” first issued in 1986 and part of a limited edition of 375. I run into these wonderful figures on a regular basis, and they are about as good as any that were made of the limited edition–type decorative-arts collectibles produced during the 1980s and 1990s.

They were, as you say, based on designs by Romain de Tirtoff (1892-1990), better known as Erté—the way his initials, RT, are pronounced in French.

Erté’s involvement with the arts world goes all the way back to 1915, when he began producing the artwork used by Harper’s Bazaar, providing more than 240 covers in 22 years for that magazine. During this same period, he was also designing stage sets and costumes for top actresses of the period, including Lillian Gish, Marion Davies, Norma Shearer and Joan Crawford.

In 1977, at an age most are very happy to rest on their laurels, Erté entered the spotlight again, authorizing serigraphs and bronzes based on his designs to Fine Art Acquisition, a New York-based firm who handled production of these pieces. The first bronze issued, “Victoire,” debuted in 1980.

Regarding the values for these Erté bronzes, I can see where it is confusing. Your “La Coquette” does often list with high-end galleries for prices as high as $18,000, but is just as often is offered for sale in art brokers’ classified ads in the $4,500 to $6,000 range.

I might also add that of the majority of Erté bronzes at auction this past year have sold in the $1,500 to $3,000 range, a bargain compared to a private or gallery purchase. It would be safe to say that in the current market you could probably replace your “La Coquette” pretty quickly in the $6,000 to $8,000 range. The $1,500 you paid for yours was indeed a bargain.


Mike Wilcox, of Wilcox & Hall Appraisers, is a Worthologist who specializes in Art Nouveau and the Arts and Craft movement.

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18 Comments

  1. mark shapiro says:

    This bronze piece pictured is not Erte’s “La Coquette”

    This piece is “La Mysterieuse” …It was published in 1980. It is from the Erte Sculpture Collection. The collection consisted of 24 pieces. “La Mysterieuse” was the second release in the collection and Erte created the image as a bridal gown….

    I hope this helps you….

    Mark Shapiro

    • Mike Wilcox says:

      Hi Mark, you are right, I’m not sure why that image is there, I must have uploaded the wrong image. We’ll pop up the correct one .

  2. What is your opinion of the value of “Victoire” by Erte?

    • mark shapiro says:

      Mary Ann,

      Erte’s first sculpture was titled, ‘La Victoire’. This patinated bronze sculpture was released in September,1980. The pre-publication price was $2,400.

      By 1985, the ‘La Victoire’ sculpture edition of 250,12 artist proofs and 9 HC’s were sold-out. There was a waiting at the gallery level for ‘La Victoire’ for a few years.

      Value of the piece:

      Today, the price for Erte bronze early works of art (1980-1984) is determined by the condition of the individual piece…

      If a gallery or seller tosses-out a random price without knowing the condition of the particular bronze then one needs to be careful, I have come across all kinds of condition issues…buy from a reputable gallery and save yourself any aggravation…

      I hope this helps you,

      Mark Shapiro

  3. What is your opinion of a La Victoire by Erte in mint condition?
    Mary Ann

    • Mike Wilcox says:

      I’ve seen that figure list retail from $29,000 to as much as $35,000, the last one I saw at auction went for $4700.00

  4. mark shapiro says:

    Mary Ann,

    ‘Mint’ condition is a term used in the ‘coin’ world not fine art world …

    The last piece I sold was for $16k and it was pretty good condition….

    There is a market for that piece…is the gallery where you acquired the piece still in business?

    Mark

  5. Meichelle says:

    My parents have both La Mysterieuse and La Victoire. They want to sell both of them. What do you think they could get for them today?

    • Mark Shapiro says:

      They can be sold on-line, I would try either listing with http://www.artbrokerage.com or contact Chalk & Vermilion Fine Art. They are in Greenwich CT.

      These are rarer pieces but try to be reasonable with your pricing.

      • Kevin says:

        Mark, You seem to have a great deal of knowledge on Erte sculptures. We have a bronze sculpture from my mother’s estate. It is titled “La Jalousie” and is signed and stamped copyright 1980 and RKP Int. Corp. I’ve looked online and only find this item listed as copyright 1983 and from Fine Art Acquisitions. Those items are also stamped xx/300, but my mother’s is stamped H.C./ Is this an authentic piece of art, or is it a fake? It feels rather heavy and seems like quality brass and is quite beautiful. If it is real, what do you suppose the value might be?

        • Mark Shapiro says:

          Hello Kevin,

          First, I am sorry to read of your mothers’ passing. “La Jalousie” by Erte has the right markings. The license agreement to create Erte bronze sculpture were initially made between Seven Arts, London (Erte’s business manager) and RKP International Corporation which are the initial for (Dr. Ronald Parker). Ron was Erte 1st publisher of his bronze collection.

          Ron eventually became partners with Fine Art Acquisitions. FAA bought the rights and assets of the collection. Eventually the markings were changed and updated to FAA. Ron left and started publishing LeRoy Neiman and Frederick Hart Sculptures.

          La Jalousie’s edition consisted of 300 + 9 AP + 9 HC

          I am sure its not a fake…please take care of the patina and just use a feather duster. The bronze edition was released in late 1983 and the complete edition sold-out fast. The pre-publication price was $3,950 and initially it took 3 months for clients to receive the artwork. They were hand-crafted and the foundry used the lost wax process for casting Erte bronzes.

          They range on-line from $5,000.- $10,000.

          Erte created the 4 emotions as works on paper. Love, hate, jealousy and I believe indifference. “Love” was created as a bronze as well titled, “L’Amour” a few years later.

          Hope this helps, Mark

          • Kevin says:

            Mark, Thank you for the kind words and sharing the incredible information. One followup inquiry is why is it stamped copyright 1980 if it was not released until 1983? On the base is stamped H.C./ , but underneath is written in marker H.C. 3/9 Is it possible this was an early casting before the regular release?

            Thanks also for the care tips. I had also read you can use paste wax, like Trewax to protect bronze sculpture. Do you recommend this?

    • Mike Wilcox says:

      It depends entirely how long they want to wait to sell it . One sold (La Mysterieuse ) at auction this year for $1800.00, Bonham’s auction sold one last year for $2196.00, with a presale estimate of $2000-$3000. One’s currently listed at artbrokerage.com for $6800.00. Some galleries are listing this same figure @ $25,000 ( ridiculous in my humble opinion).

  6. Mark Shapiro says:

    Kevin,

    I meant to write more about that but I had a client walk-in our gallery.

    In the early days of the Erte sculpture program, fine art foundries were requiring many fine art dealers to create a minimum order of at least (25) castings to be executed. The requirements included an up-front cash deposit of $50,000 or in some cases more…It was cash on the barrel-head.
    The foundries used were the Joel Meisner Foundry and Tallix Foundry. Both companies were based in NY.

    Fine Art Acquisitions was able to fund these works and the bronzes were casted. There will be a foundry mark that looks like a “JM” in a little box (probably near the piece number). OR a “TX” for Tallix Foundry.

    Each sculpture was numbered, stamped-signed, and ready for delivery. Erte was approaching 90 years old at the time and FAA wanted their licensing agreement to be protected and be able to claim the bronzes were “life-time” works of art. Not posthumously created.

    So “La Jalousie”, like other early artworks were dated, casted and held until their determined release date.
    The upside: YES: considered “life-time” works of art.
    The downside:UGH: once casted, the bronzes were deemed ‘taxable product’ by the IRS and Fine Art Acquisition was responsible for a very,very large tax bill. But I digress….

    Trewax, is a great product but do not let it sit on the bronze too long or it will turn “plaque” white and you will have a devil of a time removing it from the crevasses.

    Mark
    :)

    • Kevin says:

      Mark,
      Again, thank you for so much fabulous information. I’ve also been speaking to someone at one of the foundries and they said all markings were the decision of the publisher, and the copyright was assigned at time of creation, not release. Our piece is stamped with the Meisner mark (JM).

      So, when a “limited edition” of 300 is released, is it possible for it to contain different imprint markings? Is it possible that there were perhaps 150 marked with RKP and 150 with FAA? Are all 300 cast at the same time, or can it extend over a period of months or more?

      Finally, If I might ask, where is your gallery located?

      Best,
      Kevin

  7. Mike Wilcox says:

    You’d probably have to contact Franklin Mint for an answer, the figurines you’ve linked two are not of the type referenced in the article. From what I recall the Franklin Mint examples were made in the 1990’s.

  8. Meichelle says:

    My parents have one “La Mysterieuse” that they would like to sell. Do you know of anyone that would be interested in purchasing this piece.
    Thank you,
    Meichelle