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Late 1940s – early 1950s

Austrian by birth and trained as an architect in Vienna, Josef Frank (1885–1967) is firmly associated with mid-century Swedish Modern design and, in particular, the furniture and textiles he produced for Svenskt Tenn, a leading interiors firm based in Stockholm. Although he worked within a modernist tradition, Frank nonetheless rejected the austere severity of functionalism and proposed a more balanced and individualistic approach to the decoration of domestic spaces. His brilliantly colored, exuberantly patterned textile designs were instrumental in creating distinctive modernist interiors.

Frank’s interest in textiles emerged early in his career. During a trip to Italy in 1909–10, he created his first pattern, and in the late teens he contributed several designs to the recently established fashion and textile department of the Wiener Werkstätte, known for its innovative block-printed cottons and silks. In 1925, following a six-year tenure as Professor of Building Construction at the Vienna Kunstgewerbeschule [School of Arts and Crafts], Frank opened his own home furnishings business, Haus & Garten, in partnership with fellow architects and designers Oskar Wlach and Walter Sobotka. The venture, which lasted until 1953 (well beyond Frank’s initial involvement), was both a commercial and artistic success, and Frank’s eclectic, highly personal textile designs were widely noted at the time.

In 1933, as the political climate in Germany became more threatening, Frank—who was Jewish—and his Swedish-born wife moved permanently to Sweden. Frank then began his fruitful, decades-long collaboration with Estrid Ericson, the founder of Svenskt Tenn; by the late 1930s, his furnishing designs, as well as their configuration within interior schemes as arranged by Ericson, came to epitomize the Swedish Modern style internationally. Between 1942 and 1946, Frank lived in New York where he produced fifty new patterns for Ericson—some of the most significant of his career and many inspired by American flora and fauna. After his return to Sweden, Frank resumed his position at Svenskt Tenn, where his prolific creativity during the postwar period won him widespread recognition including an exhibition devoted to his work at the Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, in 1952.

Frank’s concept of interior decoration stressed the importance of plain white walls enlivened by a mixture of color and pattern in draperies and upholstery, which he felt produced a calming effect. Certainly the visual beauty and complexity of Botany, with its variety of motifs and rhythmic composition, invite the eye to linger over the richness of its details. Like many of his printed textiles, Botany attests to the importance of nature in Frank’s oeuvre, his love of strong colors and their combinations and his superb mastery of repeating patterns. The bold, large-scale florals, foliage and butterflies in vivid shades of red, blue, yellow, and green on a deep, wine-colored ground impart a sense of joy and reflect the influence of William Morris, millefleurs tapestries and English crewelwork, sources to which Frank returned many times during his career.

The selvedge indicates that Botany was printed in England for Morley-Fletcher, a retailer who sold printed furnishing linens in New York in the late 1940s and first half of the 1950s, and an original paper tag from Chandler & Co, Boston, is attached to the panel. Not surprisingly, many of Frank’s more than two hundred textile designs are still in production at Svenskt Tenn. The appeal and spontaneity of both the patterns and the palette have ensured their continuing popularity. In 1945, Tyra Lundgren, a Swedish artist and a contemporary of Frank’s, wrote:

Among all the printed textiles produced in Sweden those designed by Josef Frank and launched by Svenskt Tenn are of foremost distinction….Through their ornamental imagination, brilliant composition and coloristic harmony they cannot be surpassed…it is not just a matter of composition, the carefully modulated colors and the liveliness of the drawing, but above all the charisma of a great artistic personality.

108” H x 51” W

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Josef Frank Printed Linen, Botany

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