“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” said architect and designer Josef Frank.
Frank’s iconic fabric designs, inspired by flora and fauna, and a new series of unseen watercolours depicting scenes from his travels are currently on display at London’s Fashion and Textile Museum; the first ever UK exhibition dedicated to Josef Frank.
Austrian-born and trained as an architect, Jewish Frank fled to Sweden in 1933 amidst the rise of antisemitism. An architect by trade, and by association a functionalist, he also had ideas about living environments that challenged orthodox functionalism. He felt that a home should feel cosy and comfortable and above all be adaptable to the wishes of the inhabitants. With soft sofas, beautiful hardwoods and fabrics featuring splendid patterns in a multitude of colours, the home was made into a haven and a place for recuperation. Moving to Sweden enabled Frank to further find expression for his colourful brand of modernism and it also provided him the opportunity to meet Estrid Ericson, founder of Swedish home brand, Svenskt Tenn. Their relationship would live on for nearly thirty years and mark the beginning of Sweden’s colour awakening.
Frank’s collection of designs inspired a generation with their unabashed colour and optimism, especially during a time when the world was living through war. His textiles can be read as parallel worlds, starkly standing in contrast to the reality of the interwar period and the Second World War. Whilst a whole manner of ungodly horrors presided over the world, Frank depicted paradise. Beautifully coloured birds and butterflies fly over water and meadows covered in flowers and berries. Edible fruits grow on large trees, competing in beauty with decorative leaves and weaving branches; the bounty of the world and human possibilities emerge in motif after motif. In the paradise of Frank, all species share the same branches, living in perfect harmony.
The exhibition also showcases a series of never seen before watercolours which Frank undertook in his later years. He started in the 1950s, giving him a creative outlet during a time when commissions were becoming fewer. The subjects were realistic; landscapes, cityscapes and still lives. Unlike his textile designs, his watercolours show a retrained style in terms of colour and motifs; yet they are still beautiful and provide a correlation between his infamous designs and the period of experimentation. For example, his watercolours show great similarities between classic designs such as ‘Tulpaner’ and ‘Primavera’.
Josef Frank undoubtedly left a mark on the world of design, his long-lasting popularity a testament to his work. From children’s nurseries and family sitting rooms to Swedish homes and high end restaurants, Frank’s designs can be spotted all over. At MBDS his work ethic and beliefs have always been an influence; that an interior should feel comfortable, beautiful and workable. We have even paid a little homage to the great designer through the inclusion of his prints in Aquavit, a distilled vision of Swedish design in the heart of St. James. Something we can all agree on; the world would be a duller place without the vibrant and optimistic enthusiasm of Josef Frank.