Jean-Michel FRANK

1895-1941

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Status, price and estimation of Designer Jean-Michel FRANK

Price of a signed piece of furniture at auction: €1,000 – 600,000

Estimated cost of a luminaire: €1,500 – 130,000

Average estimate for an item signed by Franck: 1,000 – 20,000€.

If you would like to have a piece of furniture by the artist appraised, our design experts are available for a free appraisal.

A tragic childhood seeped into his work

The third son of banker Leon Frank, and Nanette Loewi, daughter of a Philadelphia rabbi, Jean-Michel Frank was born in Paris on 28 February 1895. At the Lycée Janson de Sailly, where he was a devoted student, he made several important encounters: Léon Pierre Quint, the future director of the Sagittaire publishing house, and René Crevel, who was to become an important figure in Surrealism. It was with them that Jean-Michel Frank made his first aesthetic experiences and encountered the works of Marcel Proust and André Gide.

The First World War plunged his family into tragedy. His parents, who were German, were placed under house arrest, while his two older brothers, who were French by birth, went to the front on the French side. In 1915, grief struck the family: both brothers were killed in action and his father committed suicide. Alone with his mother, Jean-Michel Frank worked for a while for a businessman, but he was mainly interested in the intellectual and artistic world.

A self-taught decorator

In 1918, he became friends with Pierre Drieu la Rochelle and Louis Aragon. For them, he improvised as a decorator. In 1921, he fitted out the flat of the bachelor Drieu La Rochelle by painting the walls white, leaving only a few pieces of furniture and a cubic glass vase discovered in an electrician’s workshop.

Charles Peignot, printer and founder of the French Union of Modern Artists and the English publisher Nancy Cunard, were seduced by his ascetic aesthetic and asked him to create a minimalist decoration for their house, almost without furniture. Very quickly, with the help of the cabinetmaker Adolphe Chanaux, he created a range of furniture and lighting with minimal, not to say schematic, forms.

Unconcerned with the practice and tradition of cabinetmaking, Frank introduced materials not yet used in furniture making: plaster, terracotta, mica, graphite, shagreen, straw, parchment, and/or treated in very original ways such as sanded or scraped oak. Seduced by his art, Louis Aragon and Paul Eluard commissioned lights with a primitive Chinese or African look.

In 1926, after having created a smoking room with parchment-covered walls and a boudoir in straw marquetry for the Noailles, he became a figure of the “tout-Paris” (all-Paris) and a decorator of sorts. Pecci-Blunt, Gunzburg, Cole Porter, Gaston Bergery became his regular clients. Even François Mauriac was fascinated by his aesthetic and called it “an aesthetic of renunciation”.

A career made up of numerous collaborations with renowned artists

In 1930, Jean-Michel, now an established professional decorator, took over the artistic direction of the Compagnie Chanaux. From then on, he brought together talented artists from whom he had already commissioned a few creations. For 10 years, they were associated with his work: Alberto Giacometti, Paul Rodocanachi, Jean Hugo, Emilio Terry and Christian Bérard.

Later, his style became less radical. He uses Mediterranean blue colours inspired by Bérard. He created furniture that played with reminiscences of neoclassical, baroque or Napoleon III styles. He uses more classical materials such as ivory, ebony or mahogany. It was an immediate success. The fashion designers Lucien Lelong, Robert Piguet, Marcel Rochas and Elsa Schiaparelli had their showrooms decorated by Jean-Michel. The playwright Edouard Bourdet chose him to direct his plays, first at the Théâtre de la Michodière and then at the Comédie Française.

Decorators from all over the world bought his furniture in quantity. His international success was complemented by orders from the Argentinean multimillionaire Jorge Born and the American Nelson Rockefeller. But once again, it was the war that changed Jean-Michel Frank’s destiny. In September 1939, the company Frank & Chanaux closed its doors for good.

In July 1940, Jean-Michel fled France for Argentina. There, he resumed his profession and had many contracts. After a few months, he moved to New York where, on 8 March 1941, in complete despair, he killed himself and abruptly ended a brilliant career.

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