Grassimesse Leipzig 1920 Compact: Dr. Josef Frank – Furniture

An (early) interior (and possibly early furniture) by Dr Josef Frank, undated, but before 1915

An (early) interior (and possibly early furniture) by Dr Josef Frank, undated, but before 1915

“Living rooms intended to serve more than purely representational purposes are not works of art or well-coordinated harmonies in colour and form, whose individual components (wallpaper, carpets, furniture, pictures) comprise a finished whole in which they are inextricably linked”, opined Dr Josef Frank in 1919, and that not least because, “any new item added would be perceived as awkward, disagreeable and would destroy the uniform impression. On the contrary, living rooms should be rooms that not only serve their residents a lifetime long as a backdrop and an abode, with the inevitable ever-changing and evolving outlooks and opinions of time, but they must also be able to accommodate all those objects that the residents wish to have in their environment as an organic component, without the room losing its character.”

An understanding of living rooms, and domestic arrangements in general, that meant for Frank, “the living room is never unfinished and never finished, it lives with the people who live in it…”1

Born in Baden, a community a little to the south of Vienna, on July 15th 1885 Josef Frank studied architecture at Vienna’s Technischen Hochschule, graduating in 1908, completing his PhD in 1910 with a thesis on the churches of the 15th century Italian architect Leon Battista Alberti, and subsequently establishing himself, in joint practice with Oskar Wlach and Oskar Strnad, as a practising architect in the, then, Austro-Hungarian capital. The three initially realising primarily, but by no means exclusively, housing estate projects, often within the context of the post-War Siedlerbewegung with its focus on affordable, hygienic housing for the working class.

And an Oskar Wlach with whom, in a few years time from now, Frank will establish in Vienna the furniture retailer, and manufacturer, and interior design practice, Haus & Garten, an institution which will become one of the more influential and informative interiors and furniture companies of 1920s Vienna. Not least because the Haus & Garten envisaged by Frank and Wlach won’t be that which will be envisaged by a great many others in Vienna, and indeed Europe, in the later 1920s and early 1930s, expressing itself as it will in much softer, more organic, more natural, less technical mannerisms. And for all in wood and traditional concepts, which others of the age will mock. Mannerisms, and a focus on wood and tradition, whose motivations can be appreciated in Frank’s above quoted article from last year in which he notes disapprovingly of the reduction in the role of craftsfolk through the the introduction of machine production, of the reduction of the active crafter to the passive machinist. While still accepting the necessity, and inevitability, of machine production.

Mannerisms, and a focus on wood and tradition, that in distant decades will become incomprehensibly inextricably associated with Scandinavia, a region, specifically a Sweden, where Frank will spend the greater part of his career following his flight from Austria in 1933 on account of a terror of which we cannot yet speak, but of which future generations must speak. An association of Frank’s approach with their understandings of ‘Scandinavian’ that future generations will be well counselled to consider more actively than they invariably will. Focussing as they invariably will on Frank’s use of bold colours and forms in textile designs that appear inspired by those creatives of recent decades, but also from unknown future decades. Materials those unreflective future generations will employ to create ‘finished’, ‘Scandinavian’ living rooms. But that is the future, we must remain in the now.

Alongside his own architecture, and design work, Josef Frank has been Professor for Building Construction Theory at the Kunstgewerbeschule since 1919, and in 1913 was a founding member of the Österreichische Werkbund, an alliance of creatives and industry modelled on the Deutsche Werkbund, and who were represented at the inaugural Grassimesse Leipzig by three of their more active members: the graphic and toy designer Emmy Zweybrück-Prochaska, the textile designer, and future ceramicist, Helene Dörr, and by Josef Frank.

And while in no sense ignoring the works of Zweybrück-Prochaska or Dörr, far from it, we may well return to them one day, and we do appreciate that through not discussing them and their work in more detail here we are, will be, contributing to their future popular anonymity, the singular way we view the world means that our focus at Grassimesse 1920 is and was very much on the furniture of Frank, who used the occasion of Grassimesse Leipzig 1920 to present…….

……we no know.

Sorry. We can find no record of what Josef Frank presented at that inaugural Grassimesse in 1920. But we do suspect it to have been variations on the Typenmöbel he had presented in Leipzig in the autumn of 1919 in a predecessor event of Grassimesse, and thereby not only that furniture and furnishing concept that was to become increasingly relevant in the 1920s, but also a concept closely associated with the architectural positions of the Siedlerbewegung, and the wider affordable housing projects of the 1920s and 30s; furniture in harmony with, and for, not only the architecture but the lives and budgets of the residents.

But we no know for sure. Nor have we seen the 1919 Typenmöbel and so can make no comment on it.

Yet despite the lack of the all important details, Josef Frank’s, and Emmy Zweybrück-Prochaska’s and Helene Dörr’s, presence at the inaugural Grassimesse in the spring of 1920 is testament to not only the relevance attached to the inaugural Grassimesse by creatives of all genres, but to the event’s long standing role in not only the narrative of the development of furniture and interior design, but also in the wider narratives of the development of objects of daily use, craft, applied art and design in context of developments in contemporary society.

A role that, as with the Grassimesse, has continually changed as the contemporary society has changed, and which means that for all the relevance of a Josef Frank’s contribution to the debates and discourses of the early 20th century, and his ongoing informativeness to contemporary debates and discourses, Josef Frank’s works probably wouldn’t be admitted to Grassimesse 2024.

But yours can.

Regardless of genre.

All you need do, as Josef Frank did, is to convince the jury that your work is worthy of exhibiting. Whereby Frank had to convince first a local Vienna jury under the chairmanship of Josef Hoffmann, and admittedly also featuring one Dr. Josef Frank, and then the main jury. You need but convince the 2024 Grassimesse jury.

Applications for Grassimesse Leipzig 2024 can be submitted until Wednesday May 15th.

Full details, including details of the six Grassi Prizes up for grabs, a sextet that features the €2,500 smow-Designpreis, can be found at

Good Luck!!

1. Dr. Josef Frank, Die Einrichtung des Wohnzimmers, Innendekoration: mein Heim, mein Stolz, Vol. XXX, Nr. 12, 1919, page 416

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