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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