Partner Adolphe Chanaux
140 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, 75008 Paris, France
Florida & Marcelo Torcuato de Alvear, C1006 CABA, Argentina
Jean-Michel Frank (28 February 1895 – 3 August 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. His family and business connections led him to work with such high-profile clients as fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli, the Viscount and Viscountess Charles de Noailles and Marie-Laure de Noailles, and the American composer and lyricist Cole Porter. Two American projects were the 1929 San Francisco penthouse for millionaire art enthusiast Templeton Crocker, called at the time by Vogue the first truly modern apartment in the United States, and, ten years later, the Nelson Rockefeller apartment at the top of Rockefeller Center in New York. In the Crocker space, Frank included walls and ceilings upholstered in parchment or straw, and furniture made of cast bronze, or covered in materials like leather and 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. He was a first cousin of Otto Frank and, therefore, a first cousin, once removed, of the diarist Anne Frank.
From 1904, he attended the Lycée Janson de Sailly in Paris. He began law school in 1911, but in 1915, he was hit by the double blow of the deaths of his two elder brothers, Oscar and Georges, on the front lines of World War I and that of his father who committed suicide. In 1928, he lost his mother who had been in a Swiss asylum for several years. From 1920 to 1925 he traveled and visited the world. In Venice he met the cosmopolitan society that gathered around Stravinsky and Diaghilev. Around 1927, Eugenia Errázuriz revealed to him the beauty of 18th century styles and her own modern, minimalist esthetic, and he became her disciple.
He then got in contact with a Parisian decorator called Adolphe Chanaux to do his apartment in the Rue de Verneuil. During the 1930s he worked with students at the Paris Atelier, now known as Parsons Paris School of Art and Design, where he developed the famous Parsons Table. In 1932, with Chanaux, he 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, he left France for Argentina.
Paul Rodocanachi (seated in the center) with (from left to right) Alberto Giacometti, Jean-Michel Frank, Emilio Terry, Christian Bérard, Adolphe Chanaux e Diego Giacometti , by François Kollar
In Argentina, Jean-Michel Frank worked with his old friend and business associate Ignacio Pirovano on several important private and commercial projects. Jean-Michel Frank kept his private apartment in Buenos Aires on the top floor of the company of which he was the Artistic Director in Argentina, COMTE. This building was located on the corner of Florida Street and Marcelo T. De Alvear Avenue. He 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.
IIn 1941, Frank made a trip to New York City. 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.
A unique collection of home furniture designed by Frank for Hermès in 1924 is considered a classic set of minimalist homeware. The iconic designs – including a sheepskin club chair and parchment-covered dressing table – hold an enduring popularity, and Hermès rereleased many of the items to great fanfare in early 2011.
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 a leading gallery in New York's SoHo. This exhibition highlighted Frank's work with Comte in Argentina.
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