This brief post is a sort of post-script to my last post about the traditional Scanian Red Horse, prompted by two museum exhibits on Josef Frank, the Viennese- Swedish architect and designer, one in Stockholm and one in London. These were “Josef Frank: Against Design” held at the Arkitektur och Design Centrum, Stockholm and “JOSEF FRANK Patterns—Furniture— Paintings” at the Fashion and Textile Museum in London. The London exhibit has just closed; the ArkDes show runs until the end of August.
In 1910, Viennese architect Josef Frank, later renowned for his colorful and whimsical textile designs for Svensk Tenn in Stockholm (some shown in photo above), designed an apartment for his sister Hedwig (“Hexi”), married to industrialist Carl Tedesko. This was his first interior design commission; Frank was twenty-five. Frank himself already had a strong interest in folk textiles, having gathered and studied examples of traditional Austrian weaving while still in architecture school.
Frank had also met the Swedish woman, named Anna Sebenius, who would become his wife two years later. She was teaching at a Swedish Gymnastics School in Vienna which he was commissioned to design. Anna had been born in Finland, but was raised in a cultured Stockholm home, interested in ideas and design. At the time Frank designed his sister and brother-in-law’s apartment, he was apparently already somewhat familiar with Swedish traditional textiles, as well as with the widely-published paintings of Swedish painter/illustrator, Carl Larsson. In 1910 the Austrian Museum for Art and Industry put on an exhibit of Swedish folk art and home crafts. And over the following years, Frank became even more familiar with these on trips he and Anna made to the Skanian region of Sweden together. During the 1920s, he and Anna spent time with her two sisters and their families on the Falsterbo peninsula in Sweden— the southeastern most corner of Sweden where it hooks toward Denmark. There he designed several simple “functionalist” summer houses for family and friends.
It is startling to look at photos of the 1910 Tedesko apartment, and notice not only the handsome furniture, based on historical models, which Frank designed for his sister and brother in law (some bearing their initials in marquetry), and the rug on the floor which is very Viennese in its pattern, but also to see that either Josef himself, or perhaps his girlfriend, Anna, seem to have gifted the couple with a pair of traditional carriage cushions from the Scåne region (“Scania,” in English). One of these was an Annunciation scene similar to those I looked at in my post of August 5, 2015; the second of these was a red bull, similar to other folkloric red animals discussed in my last post, March 30, 2017.
In decorating the Tedesko apartment, Frank had begun to work out a theory of decoration which he later articulated as “Accidentism”, the idea that a room should be an accumulation of cherished objects and materials acquired over a lifetime, or at least provide the impression of having this evolving character. This idea hardly seems radical today, but in 1910 Vienna, it flew in the face of the current architectural theory that a building and its decor should be conceived as a single complete work of art, with as much furniture designed by the architect and built in as possible. Frank disagreed, and began to intentionally design furniture based on historical precedents, and create interior assemblages that looked like they came from different historical periods. He also began to combine, as he did in the Tedesko apartment, furniture, textiles and artwork from different places. In a pointed rebuke to the current architectural idea of a “gesamtkunstwerk”, or complete artwork. Frank wrote that “Living spaces are not artworks, nor are they well-turned harmonies in color and form whose individual elements (wallpaper, carpets, furniture, pictures) constitute a completed whole.”
Oskar Wlach, a school colleague, and later partner in the pre-(first world)war architectural firm of Strnad, Wlach and Frank, described the Tedesko apartment at the time in a contemporary design journal. He noted that, “A room like the salon in the Tedesko apartment, in which a Persian rug, an English table, a Chinese lamp, and a Swedish blanket, etc. form a resonant harmony…cannot be damaged, one can add what one will. It remains mutable and lives along with the life of its owners.” Never mind that the Swedish blanket was actually Swedish cushions; Wlach understood well Frank’s intentions. And the fact that Hedwig actually did have a connection through her brother and his girlfriend to the traditions embodied by these cushions was precisely Frank’s point: that the decor of a room should be about the experiences and lives of those living in it, rather than the life and taste of the architect or decorator.
A photo of these traditional Skanian woven cushions in the apartment Frank designed for his sister and her husband are the earliest evidence we have that he was familiar with Swedish textile traditions well before he arrived in Sweden as an immigrant in 1933. And to bookend the story, the following photo, of Frank reclining on his own daybed at home in 1950s Stockholm, shows him ensconced among other cushions and curtains with fabric of his own design. These patterns are a far cry from those early Scanian textiles, but they still owe something in their floral exuberance and lively color, often set off against black, to the earlier models.
Frank, Josef, “Die Einrichtung des Wohnzimmers,” Innen-Dekoration 30 (1919) quoted by Christopher Long in Chapter 3, “The Wayward Heir: Josef Frank’s Vienna Years 1885-1933 in
Stritzler-Levine book cited below. The photo of the Tedesko apartment is also taken from this chapter, both on p.47.
Long, Christopher. Josef Frank, His Life and Work, University of Chicago Press, 2002.
Stritzler-Levine, Nina, ed. Josef Frank Architect and Designer, The Bard Center for Graduate Studies in the Decorative Arts, New York, Yale University Press, 1996.
Witt-Dörring, Christian, “Steel is not a raw material; steel is a weltanshauung”: the Early Furniture Designs of Josef Frank, 1910-1933 in Stritzler-Levine book cited above.
Wlach, Oskar, “Zu den Arbiten von Josef Frank,” Das Interieur 13 (1912) p. 45. quoted by Christopher Long in Chapter 3, “The Wayward Heir: Josef Frank’s Vienna Years 1885-1933 in Stritzler-Levine book cited above.