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Josef Frank Patterns, Furniture, and Paintings at the Fashion and Textile Museum

Updated on September 2, 2017
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Frances has many years' experience writing travel articles and reviewing art galleries, museums, and the books they publish.

Iconic Designs on Display

The Fashion and Textile Museum presents JOSEF FRANK Patterns-Furniture-Painting. Presented in association with Millesgården, Stockholm, the exhibition is devoted to internationally renowned artist and designer Josef Frank (1885-1967). The display sets his work in an art historical context.

The exhibition includes a wide range of fabrics, carpets, furniture and glassware, a selection of photographs and correspondence offering a fascinating insight into Frank's life, plus a number of hitherto unseen watercolours. The exhibition also features a room setting showing many of Frank's iconic designs including a functional sideboard decorated with vibrant floral motifs.

Designs by Josef Frank on Display at Fashion and Textile Museum

A room setting showing designs by Josef Frank. Copyright image by Frances Spiegel with permission from the Fashion and Textile Museum. All rights reserved.
A room setting showing designs by Josef Frank. Copyright image by Frances Spiegel with permission from the Fashion and Textile Museum. All rights reserved.

About the Artist

Born near Vienna in 1885, Josef Frank studied architecture at the Vienna University of Technology, completing a doctorate in 1910. After World War I he became a professor of architecture and a highly successful practitioner. In 1925 he established the design and furnishings company Haus & Garten. The company was very successful throughout the latter years of the decade. Frank designed houses, interiors and furniture as well as colourful and imaginative fabric patterns.

He designed the first Werkbundsiedlung, an experimental housing scheme built on the outskirts of the city between 1930 and 1932. With the rise of anti-Semitism Frank and his Swedish wife Anna moved to Stockholm in 1933.

Sideboard with Decoupage Drawers by Josef Frank

Sideboard with Decoupage Drawers by Josef Frank. Copyright image by Frances Spiegel with permission from the Fashion and Textile Museum. All rights reserved.
Sideboard with Decoupage Drawers by Josef Frank. Copyright image by Frances Spiegel with permission from the Fashion and Textile Museum. All rights reserved.

Frank's Revolutionary Beliefs Challenged Long-established Ideas

His revolutionary beliefs challenged long-established ideas. Many designers preferred simple functional designs, devoid of decoration, but Frank said: “The monochromatic surface appears uneasy, while patterns are calming, and the observer is unwillingly influenced by the slow, calm way it is produced. The richness of decoration cannot be fathomed so quickly, in contrast to the monochromatic surface which doesn’t invite any further interest and therefore one is immediately finished with it.”

Carpet by Josef Frank

Carpet designed by Josef Frank for Svenskt Tenn. Copyright image by Frances Spiegel with permission from the Fashion and Textile Museum. All rights reserved.
Carpet designed by Josef Frank for Svenskt Tenn. Copyright image by Frances Spiegel with permission from the Fashion and Textile Museum. All rights reserved.

The Birth of Swedish Modern

Before Frank moved to Sweden the Swedish artist Estrid Ericson had already recognised the power of his innovative ideas and unique brand of modernism. She invited him to join her at Svenskt Tenn (Swedish Pewter), the company founded by Ericson in 1924. Initially a shop specialising in contemporary pewter, the business evolved into an internationally renowned interior design company. Frank was head designer at Svenskt Tenn for 30 years.

Working together Frank and Ericson established the style we now think of as Swedish Modern creating some 150 textile prints, a wide range of glassware, metalwork and interior designs as well as more than 2,000 pieces of furniture.

Speaking recently Celia Joicey, Head of the Fashion and Textile Museum, said: “Josef Frank’s textile patterns are design classics: his brilliant use of colour, sense of scale and surreal organic forms have remained in fashion for over 70 years. Frank’s collaboration with Estrid Ericson at Svenskt Tenn in Stockholm is a fine example of how working in a design partnership can create a stronger individual style.”

Mille Fleurs (Detail) - Fabric by Josef Frank

Mille Fleurs by Josef Frank - Detail - reminiscent of meadow flowers. Copyright image by Frances Spiegel with permission from Fashion and Textile Museum. All rights reserved.
Mille Fleurs by Josef Frank - Detail - reminiscent of meadow flowers. Copyright image by Frances Spiegel with permission from Fashion and Textile Museum. All rights reserved.

Frank's Revolutionary Ideas

Through his fabric designs Frank shows a world that contrasts sharply with the stark reality of the interwar period and the terrors of World War II. Inspired by nature, his work is dominated by brightly-coloured birds, butterflies, plants and floral motifs. The Fashion and Textile Museum tells us: “His patterns are filled with an optimistic energy, even where highly abstracted and suggest the abundance of the world and human possibilities, a world of dreams where species intertwine and differing types of flowers grow side by side.”

The fabric known as Mille Fleurs is a typical example. Mille Fleurs refers to the thousands of flowers growing in a meadow or flower bed. The design has its origins in medieval French tapestries. The fabric was printed using a block that was rotated a quarter of a turn for each square. Using this method allowed a small printing block to be used to create a very large pattern. In the 21st century modern fabrics are made using the screen-printing method.

Josef Frank and Estrid Ericson at Millesgården

In 1951, Frank and Ericson were asked to create the interiors for a newly-constructed house in the grounds of Millesgården in Stockholm. Millesgården was the studio, home and exhibition space of Swedish sculptor Carl Milles (1875-1955). The house, known as Anne’s house, was to be the home of Milles’s secretary Anne Hedmark. The exhibition features plans, drawings and photographs of the interiors of the house showing the textile designs and furniture in situ.

Millesgården is a beautiful place with sculptures, fountains, gardens and terraces - a work of art in its own right. Open to the public since the late 1930s, Millesgården is still a popular tourist attraction drawing thousands of visitors every year.

The Unknown Watercours

What many people don't realise is that in later life Frank was also a prolific painter. More than 400 watercolours have been discovered, many of which are on show in this exhibition. He depicts houses and buildings recalling his earlier architectural work as well as landscapes and cityscapes that reflect his travels.

Although Frank painted watercolours for some fifteen years it seems he had little or no commercial ambition as an artist. His correspondence tells us that while he took his painting very seriously he also thought it was poor and old-fashioned. However, according to his friends, he seemed very pleased with his work!

Watercolour by Josef Frank

Watercolour by Josef Frank reflects his love of nature. Copyright image by Frances Spiegel with permission from the Fashion and Textile Museum. All rights reserved.
Watercolour by Josef Frank reflects his love of nature. Copyright image by Frances Spiegel with permission from the Fashion and Textile Museum. All rights reserved.

Josef Frank – The Unknown Watercolours by Ulrika von Schwerin Sievert

Josef Frank – The Unknown Watercolours accompanies the exhibition. In this publication Swedish journalist and writer Ulrika von Schwerin Sievert explores the artist's life and work. Illustrated with previously unpublished photographs, objects and letters, this high-quality hardback publication (ISBN 978-91-87397-32-5) is available from the Fashion and Textile Museum and all good book stores.

Further information and tickets for the exhibition can be obtained from the Fashion and Textile Museum.

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© 2017 Frances Spiegel

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