9382 A FINE MAHOGANY AND PARCEL GILT METAMORPHIC TABLE ATTRIBUTED TO JEAN-MICHEL FRANK FOR COMTE LTDA. Probably Buenos Aires. Circa Late 1930s. Measurements Height: 29 1/2″(75cm) Width 70 3/4″(180cm) Depth (Closed) 21 1/2″ (54.5cm).
Of mahogany with parcel gilt moldings. The rectangular hinged top with a gilded channeled edge. Each waisted standard end support defined with a gilt molded outer edge and centered by a clover pattern gilt boss. The hinged and separated ends fold forward to allow the hinged top to rest when folded out. Both ends united by a fixed clover form
molded stretcher, the whole resting on continuous plain sled feet.
Stamped to the underside of the stretcher:
Purportedly the Collection of Madam Lia Elena de Elizalde de Pirovano, Buenos Aires Private collection, Buenos Aires
Private collection, Uruguay
Jean-Michel Frank, the groundbreaking French interior and furniture designer whose short career had a profound impact on modern design, was born in Paris in 1895. He was first heavily influenced by Eugenia Errázuriz, a Chilean-born connoisseur and patron of minimalism and modernism, living in Paris at the time. Her love of simplicity and style attracted, along with Frank, the company of such names as Coco Chanel and Pablo Picasso; her motto being: “Eliminate. Always Eliminate. Elegance means less.”
After further refining his tastes abroad, Frank returned to Paris and enlisted the services of decorator Adolphe Chanaux to furnish his apartment. The pair would later collaborate, and in 1932 they opened a shop at 140 rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honoré where Frank thrived, attracting clientèle and friends from the Vicomte and Vicomtesse Charles and Marie-Laure de Noailles, to Elsa Schiparelli and Salvador Dalí.
Frank had a talent for combining streamlined designs with a variety of previously uncommon textiles. Referred to as luxe pauvre, or ‘impoverished luxury,’ materials like shagreen, sack or suit cloth, leather sewn by Hermès, raffia, and straw marquetry were employed in sumptuous manners to minimalist objects in sparse décors. This consideration for refinement reflected Frank’s respect for luxurious designs of the eighteenth and nineteenth century French tradition, which extended even to his re-covering of stripped Louis XVI armchairs in such materials. He wrote, in 1935, “I believe that a less severe principle can be found—the ‘mixing of styles’…The noble frames that came to us from the past can receive today’s creations. The house that we build now can welcome ancient things of beauty.”1
His presence in France was cut short, however, with the beginning of World War II. Frank fled Paris and headed to South America, establishing himself there with the assistance of Eugenia Errázuriz. The present table is likely a dazzling example of J.M. Frank’s creations during the relatively short time he spent working in Argentina in the late 1930s. Among his outstanding commissions while there were the Llao Llao Hotel in Bariloche, the Hotel Provencal in Mar Del Plata, and the Born residence in Buenos Aires, which included a coffee table in the same principle of extension as the present piece (figure 1).
During his stay in Argentina, Frank was persuaded to take the position of Artistic Director for Comte Ltda., Buenos Aires’ most elite and sophisticated establishment of art studios and galleries, where he also kept an apartment on the top floor of the building. Comte sold furniture and objets d’art by the leading cutting-edge designers of the day, and had imported Frank’s designs from France since 1932. The proprietors of Comte Ltda. were Ignacio Pirovano, also the Director of the Museum of Decorative Arts, and his wife Lia Elena de Elizalde de Pirovano, and it was she who purportedly owned the present table until her death in the mid-1980s, according to Tomas Serra Oribe, formerly a designer for the Fine Arts Museum Buenos Aires, and an art agent.
“Madam Pirovano explained that Frank’s proclivity while working for Comte Ltda. was for pieces inspired by the Louis XVI and Directoire periods.”2 The present table is a brilliant fusion of the graceful lines of the late neo-classical era with the pared down, austere design parameters for which Frank is so justly celebrated.
Aside from the purported Pirovano provenance and Buenos Aires origin of the table, there are a number of compelling pointers that make it likely that it is a work designed by Frank for Comte Ltda. The highly distinctive gateleg metamorphic model is closely related to other versions known to be by Frank, including a similar table, circa 1938, sold at Christie’s Paris 30 November 2006 (figure 2), and a related desk commissioned from Frank by Parisian theatre director Raymond Rouleau, circa 1938, included in Christie’s New York Important 20th Century Decorative Art & Design sale, 19 December 2006 (figure 3), as well a table for the Murature family of Buenos Aires and the above mentioned table for the Born residence.
As far as is known, no other versions of the model exist by designers other than Frank. Stylistically, the table bears the hallmarks of Frank’s distinctive style, including “the almost surrealist flattening of the table’s components”3 in addition to the expanding flip top, which uses the same mechanics as Frank’s flip-top coffee table design. The present table is struck with a 5-digit serial number of the type found on pieces for Comte Ltda. (although many pieces possess a metal Comte tag). According to James Buresh, director of Gallery Bac and author of Jean-Michel Frank in Argentina (New York, 2010) it was is not uncommon for the firm to produce pieces marked with a 4 or 5-digit number alone, and the firm was known to create one-off pieces for projects.4 The quality of materials and construction is superb, being made from fine, dense mahogany, with well-applied parcel gilding, and is in line with other items from the Frank-Comte oeuvre.
We are grateful for the help of James Buresh, leading scholar on the work of J. M. Frank in Argentina, in attributing this table.
1. Owens, Mitchell. “Jean-Michel Frank; Prolific Genius of Modernist French Design.” Architectural Digest Jan. 2000.
2. Tomas Serra Oribe, Buenos Aires.
3. J. Buresh, Gallery Director, Gallery BAC. “RE: J.M. Frank Table.” Message to Carlton Hobbs. 18 Oct. 2011. E-mail.