Josef Frank - Nordic Design London Wednesday, September 30, 2015 | Phillips

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  • Literature

    Erik Zahle, ed., A Treasury of Scandinavian Design: The standard authority on Scandinavian-designed furniture, textiles, glass, ceramics, and metal, New York, 1961, p. 90, fig. 32
    Josef Frank: 1885-1967 – Minnesutställning, exh. cat., National Museum of Stockholm, 1968, p. 35
    Nina Stritzler-Levine, Josef Frank, Architect and Designer: An Alternative Vision of the Modern Home, New York, 1996, pp. 71, 231, 277 for a drawing and images of similar examples

  • Catalogue Essay

    In 1934, Josef Frank, an Austrian architect, joined Estrid Ericson the founder of Svenskt Tenn, which she opened in October 1924. Both Franks's and Ericson’s reputations are indissolubly connected, a symbiotic partnership that lasted productively for 33 years. Frank was able to work within the company Svenskt Tenn with absolute freedom. Journalist Eva von Zweigbergk refers to Franks and Ericson’s relationship as ‘a symbiosis’, and continues to write in the Swedish periodical ‘Form’ regarding her friend, Estrid Ericson: "approved of everything that Frank designed, and he, in turn, fulfilled every request she made". Housed within the Svenskt Tenn’s archives there are 2,000 furniture sketches and 160 textile designs by Josef Frank.

    Frank did not always remain in Stockholm after leaving Vienna. Assisted by his brother Philipp Frank, who taught at Harvard, Frank departed Sweden for New York in 1941 where he lectured at the New School. In February 1946 Frank returned to Sweden and Svenskt Tenn, where he resumed his position producing some of his most important work, which continued in to the 1950s. The American connection continued after his return. László Gábor, Frank’s former colleague from Vienna was the art director at Kaufmann’s Department Store located in Pittsburgh and in 1951, due to Gábor, both Frank and Ericson created five in-store displays for the department store, which consisted mainly of designs from Svenskt Tenn.

    From the Svenskt Tenn archive is a preparatory drawing, circa 1938, by Frank for a cabinet-on-stand, with the model no. 881 (Ibid, p. 230). The drawing depicts nineteen drawers but states twenty-one; the design was refined further and produced with different veneers, textiles, scales and hardware.

    In 1958, Frank wrote an essay in the ‘Form’, titled ‘Accidentism’, which is a concept fulminated against the modern construct of standardisation and technology, precluding accidental possibilities and left nothing to chance. The present lot can be viewed as Frank’s reaction against standardisation, an attempt to subvert the formal, as there are varying drawer configurations to the cabinet-on-stand designs. Each cabinet has a discrete continuity in the differentiation of their scale, simultaneously suggesting an increase and decrease of space; engendering an oneiric state where objects can exist contiguously within their amplified and diminishing compartments.

    Frank’s ‘Accidentism’ appears to have permeated the minds of future designers, for example Shiro Kuramata’s. There are elements of Kuramata’s work that appear to adhere to Frank’s theoretical concept. The physical factors of design are almost tertiary to Kuramata, it is communication and psychological effects that appear to be far more intriguing concepts and as he remarks ‘I believe that a chest of drawers is the kind of furniture that most strongly communicates with man, even psychologically’ (Shitsunai, January, 1972).

    Frank’s cabinet-on-stands evinced quality, intrigue and appreciation for a cynosure piece of furniture. In the late 1950s this design formed part of a guest room interior at the Swedish Embassy, Washington, D.C.


Cabinet-on-stand, model no. 2030

designed 1948
Mahogany-veneered wood, mahogany, brass.
124 x 70 x 37.3 cm (48 7/8 x 27 1/2 x 14 5/8 in.)
Produced by Svenskt Tenn, Stockholm, Sweden.

£15,000 - 25,000 

Sold for £27,500

Contact Specialist
Madalena Horta e Costa
Head of Sale
+44 20 7318 4019

Nordic Design

London Auction 1 October 2015