9382 A FINE MAHOGANY AND PARCEL GILT METAMORPHIC TABLE RELATED TO DESIGNS BY JEAN-MICHEL FRANK 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
This table is related to metamorphic designs by Jean-Michel Frank (1895–1941), a groundbreaking French interior and furniture designer whose short career had a profound impact on modern design. Frank 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 analogous to 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 clearly influenced by the brilliant fusion of the graceful lines of the late neoclassical era with the pared down, austere design parameters for which Frank is so justly celebrated.
Apart from the purported Pirovano provenance and Buenos Aires origin of the table, there are other pointers to the influence of Frank. Stylistically, the table bears the hallmarks of his 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 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.
That the table shares strong design aspects with the work by Frank and bears a stamped serial number much like those used by Comte Ltda., suggests production by the firm. However, it has also been suggested the table may instead be a product of Maison Jansen.
Founded in Paris in 1880 by the Dutch-born Jean-Herni Jansen, the design firm was also known for combining historical and modern styles in their furniture production. “Within its first decade, Maison Jansen became one of Europe’s leading design houses,”4 and its participation in international exhibitions carried its reputation carried across the Atlantic. By 1905 Jansen had a presence in South America, opening their first satellite office in Buenos Aires.
Much Jansen furniture is unsigned as the firm’s approach was not to overshadow the client or publicly promote its contributions, defining itself “not as the decorator but as an assistant to the patron.”5 For this reason it is difficult to identify pieces and “despite intense expert scrutiny, there is still no single authenticity standard.”6 Furthermore, Jansen sometimes used forms originated by others in their own output, and also included or specially commissioned pieces from independent artisans, including Jean-Michel Frank.
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.
4. Abbott, James A. Jansen. New York: Acanthus Press, 2006. 12.
5. Abbott, Jansen Furniture, p. 20.