Josef Frank is one of Sweden’s most influential designers. He is best known for creating furniture and colourful textiles for Svenskt Tenn, the homeware and interiors company founded by Estrid Ericson in 1924. In the 1930s and 40s, he produced some 2,000 furniture sketches and 160 textile prints for the company as well as glassware and metalwork.
A new exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum in London showcases Frank’s furniture and prints alongside watercolour paintings. The exhibition is the first in the UK dedicated to Frank’s work and aims to contextualise his designs while highlighting his lesser-known works in watercolour.
Frank was born in Austria in 1885 and grew up in Vienna, where he studied architecture. In the 1920s, he designed affordable social housing estates and workers’ apartments. He fled to Sweden to escape Nazi discrimination in 1933 and started working with Ericson soon after.
Frank’s prints for Svenskt Tenn – created during a period of war and suffering throughout Europe – are bright and joyous, filled with bold colours, botanicals and charming butterflies. His furniture designs combine functionalism with decoration – chest of drawers are embellished with floral prints and sofas and chairs upholstered in colourful fabrics. Together with Ericson, he helped define an aesthetic that paved the way for brands like Ikea.
“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,” says Celia Joicey, head of the Fashion and Textile Museum. “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.”
The exhibition will showcase textiles, carpets, wallpapers and furniture along with room sets and watercolours. (Frank produced around 400 paintings in the latter stages of his career, depicting cityscapes, landscapes and still lifes).
The exhibition is in association with Millesgården museum and sculpture garden in Stockholm. Frank and Ericson designed the interior for a house in the grounds of Millesgården in 1951 and plans, photographs and drawings will show the pair’s work in situ.
Alongside the exhibition, the Fashion and Textile Museum is hosting a book signing with Ulrica von Schwerin Sievert – author of a new book on Frank’s watercolours – and a tour led by curator Dennis Nothdruft.
It’s a rare chance to see Frank’s prints up close and learn more about the celebrated architect and designer.
Josef Frank: Patterns – Furniture – Painting opens at the Fashion and Textile Museum, SE1 3XF on January 28 until May 7 2017. For details, see ftmlondon.org