There was a story buzzing among the Paris dealers the last time I was in France. ( Last July )
Apparently a few weeks before I had arrived, a small dealer at ‘The Marche aux Puces’ was driving home from a hard days work when he spotted a pair of chairs piled on a heap of refuse.
He liked the minimalistic design and brought them home to his small flat in a lesser part of Paris. His wife hated the chairs and insisted on ridding their apartment of his ‘trash heap’ find.
He took them to a dealer friend,who,without hesitation bought them for 500 Euros. The seller was thrilled at his 500E profit and quickly returned home to his wife to boast about his good fortune. Little did he know that he’d actually sold a pair of very rare ‘Jean Michel Frank’ chairs worth in excess of 600,000E.
His dealer friend knowing instantly what they were quietly sold them at auction for the 600,000 Euros give or take a few thousand. Needless to say his friend found out and was so upset at his costly mistake he decided to sue his friend. I’ve not heard anything since but I can assure you suing will be fruitless.
I’m not surprised that the dealer didn’t recognize the work of this famous designer. If you’d seen Franks’ work you’d probably not even give it a second look. Particularly if piled atop a refuse pile.
Jean-Michel Frank (February 28, 1895 – 1941) was a French interior designer, known for minimalist interiors decorated with plain-lined but sumptuous furniture made of luxury materials, such as shagreen, mica, and intricate straw marquetry.
Jean-Michel Frank was born in Paris, a son of Léon Frank, a banker, and his wife and cousin, the former Nanette Frank. From 1904, Frank attended the Lycée Janson de Sailly in Paris and began law school in 1911. However, in 1915, Frank was hit by the double blow of the death of his two elder brothers, Oscar and Georges, on the front lines of World War I and that of his father who committed suicide.
Frank travelled the world from 1920 to 1925 where in Venice, Italy he met the cosmopolitan society that gathered around Stravinsky and Diaghilev. Around 1927, he met the famous socialite Eugenia Errázuriz who exposed to him the beauty of 18th century styles and her own modern, minimalist esthetic. Frank was so impressed and influenced by Eugenia, he became her devoted disciple. The story of Eugenia is a fascinating one in itself and worthy of a blog someday.
Eugenia Huici Arguedas de Errázuriz (15 September 1860 – 1951) was a Chilean patron of modernism and a style leader of Paris from 1880 into the 20th century. Eugenia paved the way for the modernist minimalist aesthetic that would be taken up in fashion by Coco Chanel. Her circle of friends and protégés included Pablo Picasso, Igor Stravinsky, Jean Cocteau, and the poet Blaise Cendrars. She was of Basque descent and evidently a heiress and great beauty of her time. She and Jean Michel Frank were great friends and collaborators on projects of design.
During the 1930s he worked with students at the Paris Atelier, now known as the famous ‘Parsons Paris School of Art and Design’, where he developed the famous ‘Parsons Table’ which is still heavily copied by furniture manufacturers today.
In 1932, with Chanaux, Frank opened a shop at #140 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré. This was to be the consecration of ten years of collaboration, when he decorated for the Rockefellers and Guerlains. He designed Nelson Rockefeller’s lavish Fifth Avenue apartment in New York in 1937. During the winter of 1939-40, Frank left France for Beunos Aires, Argentina.
Jean-Michel Frank kept his private apartment in Buenos Aires on the top floor of the company ‘Comte’ of which he was the Artistic Director. This building was located on the corner of Florida Street and Marcelo T. De Alvear Avenue.
Frank also visited many of his clients in Buenos Aires including the Born family whose mansion in the northern suburbs of Buenos Aires remains his single most important project. The entire collection is still intact and in-place in precisely the manner that Jean-Michel Frank conceived it. Recently published books shed more light on Frank’s work with Comte in Argentina but unfortunately there are no photos on the internet to publish. His life was very short and one of the reasons his furniture is so rare and highly collectable.
In 1941, Frank made a final trip to New York. Sadly overcome by depression he committed suicide by throwing himself from the window of a Manhattan apartment building, leaving all his personal possessions in his apartment in Buenos Aires.
He was a first cousin of Otto Frank and, therefore, a first cousin, once removed, of the diarist Anne Frank.
Jean-Michel Frank today is recognized by leading designers the world over as one of the greatest sources of inspiration to many present-day designs. His pieces are highly sought after by leading collectors worldwide. Many of the premier auction houses offer his pieces and prices are often in excess of 200,000 EUR. An important exhibition was mounted towards the end of 2010 at the BAC, a leading gallery in New York’s SoHo. This exhibition highlighted Frank’s work with Comte in Argentina.
Personally I’m not a fan of his work. I appreciate it for what it is, simple, forward thinking and rare. During his short life span, he wasn’t as prolific as other designers, therefore making his work scarce and very valuable.
Thanks for reading. I appreciate any feedback!