Architect and designer, Josef Frank, creator of some of the 20th Century's most joyfully illustrative textile patterns, is being honored with a first-ever retrospective at London's Fashion and Textile Museum. Austrian by birth, Frank was a leading proponent of Vienna's famous social housing projects, created in the aftermath of World War I, but it's Frank's collaboration with the Swedish interior design company Svenskt Tenn that ultimately yielded his most recognizable works.
Fleeing Nazi oppression, Frank emigrated to Sweden in 1933, eventually acquiring citizenship and saving his most joyful and colorful work for his adopted country. His nature-inspired patterns—botanical illustrations and colorful butterflies and birds—were created mostly in the 1930’s and 1940’s, and still define the bulk of the Svenskt Tenn range. A stark contrast to the muted color palette and restraint for which Scandinavian design is admired, Josef Frank patterns, applied to curtains, upholstery, and decor pieces, revel in their vivid colorways and highly ornamental motifs—and not by accident.
"Frank had this idea that if a room has plain walls, the pattern and color in between provides something for you to visually engage with." - Dennis Nothdruft, Fashion & Textile Museum curator
Dennis Nothdruft, the Fashion and Textile Museum's curator, explains: “Frank had this idea that if a room has plain walls, the pattern and color in between provides something for you to visually engage with. The calmness comes from the fact that the mind is rested when it is absorbed by seeing pattern. He believed that what draws a room together is not coordinating objects, but the person who has chosen, and loves, them. It’s a very contemporary way of thinking.”
"His nature-inspired patterns—botanical illustrations and colorful butterflies and birds—were created mostly in the 1930’s and 1940’s, and still define the bulk of the Svenskt Tenn range."
Josef Frank: Fashion-Furniture-Painting, which runs through May 7, features Frank's watercolor paintings, fabrics and furnishings, and is, in some ways, an ode to visual splendor in an age of uncertainty. As Northdruft states, “There’s a real optimism and positivity to Frank’s work. Even during the Second World War, in what was the darkest period of his life, he produced some of his most colorful and hopeful designs—we all need that same kind of boost right now.”