Josef Frank's America Prints

“It is almost as if he wanted to quell the evil of the time with irrepressible liveliness”

– Kristina Wängberg-Eriksson

During World War II, Josef Frank went into exile and travelled from Sweden to New York together with his wife Anna. At the height of the war he created some of his most admirable textile prints, with freely growing trees of life’s, flowers and fruits always on the verge between fantasy and reality.

With pencils, brushes, gouache and watercolours, he sat in a corner of the two-room apartment in Manhattan and created what turned out to be an outstanding collection of prints, inspired by American field guides on trees, herbs, birds and insects. When Svenskt Tenn’s founder Estrid Ericson turned 50 in September 1944, he gave her 50 of these exquisite prints. A remarkable gift that to this day continues to bring joy and inspiration to people worldwide.

Manhattan Print Josef Frank Svenskt Tenn

Manhattan

Josef Frank finds the city plan of Manhattan "brilliant in its brutal simplicity" and thus draws the print that depicts a map of the island. With Bauhauistic, basic shapes he constricts it all in a geometric way. Central Park and Manhattan's North Point naturally fit into rectangles, while the South Point and the intersection around Broadway and Sixth Avenue are depicted within circles. The surrounding black text stripe ties the whole composition together.

Hawai

Frank probably garnered inspiration for Hawai on a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Here, Frank has “grafted” widely different species onto the branches, creating a representation that lies beyond the possibilities of genetics. With its downward-pointing string-like sepal leaves, a “pineapple” is bizarrely suspended like a melon. The dark greeny-purple upwards-pointing leaves on the other side provide a counterbalance. On the ground, at the foot of the tree, there are some botanically almost correctly rendered species such as daisies, lily of the valley and love-in-idleness. Perhaps the dream of the South Seas could be entertained more freely and unrestrainedly in the days before air traffic (which Frank disliked) had reduced the travel time from days to hours.

Hawai Print Josef Frank Svenskt Tenn
Vegetable Tree Print Josef Frank Svenskt Tenn

Vegetable Tree

Frank humorously redesigned the “Flowering Tree” of Indian chintzes/palampores into a “Vegetable Tree”, with easily recognisable pomegranates, pears, aubergines, peppers, tomatoes and pumpkins. Rather more dubious, however, are the variegated “apricots” at the top. To achieve maximal effect and induce a spark of wonder, Frank stylises the shapes, intensifies the colours and blends natural and fantastic elements. On one of the branches, he has placed daisies and rose hips together! Growing close to the daisies, we see leaves from one of the world’s oldest tree species – Ginkgo biloba. The fan shape appealed to Frank. The design appears in several earlier prints and he returns to it time and time again.

Teheran

Tehran is a block print inspired motif, where the lianas form a thin, vertical lattice. The pattern is a paraphrase of the Persian carpet. Both the knot and the name suggest it, as do the luminous small flowers on the background. The lobate leaf in varying colours brings to mind different plant pigments such as Rubia tinctorum, Reseda lutea and indigo.

Teheran Print Josef Frank Svenskt Tenn
La Plata Print Josef Frank Svenskt Tenn

La Plata

Frank’s La Plata displays an affinity with the 20-year-older Mirakel from Haus und Garten but with a simpler geometric layout. Billowing and intersecting lianas form a subtropical network in which different patterns are blended in a masterful balance. Flowers, fruit and leaf shapes in three distinct colour ranges provide depth and excitement. Delicate clinging vines wind around the stems of the lianas making the upward movement less noticeable. As with the majority of Frank’s print names the exotic-sounding La Plata was surely selected with great care. La Plata has been printed in blue, green and red.

Brazil

Brazil is the largest country in South America and Brazil has the largest repeat patterns of all Frank’s prints, two square metres. It depicts the diversity of the rainforest in an almost baroque overabundance. A gigantic, pulsating liana supports fantasy flowers, bread-fruits and cherimoyas. Printed on linen in mute colours, Brazil can transform a neutral wall into a pure vitamin injection, without overwhelming it.

Manhattan Print Josef Frank Svenskt Tenn

Selected Products