Josef Frank’s Fantasihus


13 February 2017

Although Austrian designer Josef Frank (1885–1967) trained as an architect, it was his textile designs – vibrant in colour, optimistic, and imbued with references to nature – that brought him international acclaim. When Frank ceased designing textiles in the early-1950s, his focus turned to watercolour painting.

Whilst Frank's predilection for painting was known amongst his intimates, it was only until recently, almost five decades since his death, that an archive of 400 watercolour paintings came to light. When Frank died in 1967, he had no children and his possessions were left to one sole inheritor, Dagmar Grill. A lifelong friend, and the cousin of Frank’s former wife Anna Sebenius, Grill was Frank's partner through his final decade. When Grill died several years later, also without children, Frank’s archive was shared amongst her nieces and nephews. Amongst the archive were a series of linen folders containing Frank’s watercolour paintings. Although some of the paintings were framed to adorn the walls of Grill’s relatives, the majority remained hidden away inside the folders.

Following their chance discovery, the watercolours currently feature in Josef Frank Pattens-Furniture-Painting, an exhibition on display at the Fashion and Textile Museum in London. The paintings range from detailed still-lifes – from bowls of fruit to flower arrangements – to landscapes depicting the rolling hills of Provence, and cityscapes inspired by Frank's trips to Italy, England, and Spain.

“Dagmar shared Josef Frank’s interest in design and architecture, and this was often the topic of both their conversations and their extensive letter correspondence,” writes Swedish journalist Ulrica von Schwerin Sievert in Josef Frank: The Unknown Watercolours. “Josef loved architecture, but would sometimes get tired of the fact that the bureaucratic management that surrounded the building projects took more time than the creative process that he considered more enjoyable. This was one of the reasons why he decided to focus on interior design, and the design of furniture, lamps, fabrics, and a range of decorative items, instead. Frank thought that the interior, as opposed to the facade, should be shaped by the inhabitant of the home, without interference by the architect.”

Despite his success as a textile designer, Frank grew increasingly frustrated with his lack of architectural commissions. In the summer of 1947, hoping to remind Frank of his talent, Grill encouraged Frank to draw houses. Within a fortnight he had drawn 13. Dubbed Fantasy Houses (or, in Swedish, Fantasihus), they were drawn with no intention to be built. The houses are therefore indicative of Frank’s raw creative thought as an architect, unhindered by the restriction of bureaucratic rules and economic constraints. He sent the drawings to Grill by post, and later recreated the drawings in watercolour.

Although only three of the Fantasihus watercolours feature in the Fashion and Textile Museum exhibition, Disegno is delighted to publish a larger selection of the designs below.

Double D-houses. IMAGE The Swedish Centre for Architecture and Design
House nine, which was Frank's favourite due to its complete lack of straight angles. IMAGE The Swedish Centre for Architecture and Design
The sixth D-house. IMAGE The Swedish Centre for Architecture and Design
D-house 4. IMAGE The Swedish Centre for Architecture and Design
Triple-house. IMAGE The Swedish Centre for Architecture and Design
Project for Trude Waehner late 1950s. IMAGE The Swedish Centre for Architecture and Design