Frankart Revisited: The Fantasy
Females of Frankart Incorporated
By Robert Salamone
A Frankart-style patinated metal figural lamp with Spritzdekor Glass Shade, circa 1930.
Photo: Heritage Auctions
All too often when we think of decorative objects of the twenties and thirties we tend to visualize European items. Many of us are not aware that here, in New York City, small design studios and factories were busy making delightful American decorative items for our homes and enjoyment.
The design studio of Frankart Incorporated, then at 225 Fifth Avenue, was one of these small firms, whose line of delightful female “nudie girl” lamps and ash receivers has become famous and very sought after.
The earliest of von Frankenberg's ladies, Flame, dates to 1921. It has a slightly nouveau base, which tapers upward to blend into the figure's ankle. A sleek, nude figure candle holder, its popularity inspired more than 85 other figural pieces, sculpted by chief designer Arthur von Frankenberg. In 1923, stepped, or pyramidal bases were featured. This new look was most probably inspired by the astounding discovery of the Egyptian King Tutankhamen's tomb in that same year.
Also produced were an animal line and a caricature series, sculpted by another Frankart artist, but they did not ever enjoy the same popularity.
Von Frankenberg's smooth lines and his subtle hints at detail show his personal reaction to the European treatment of metal figures. By his elimination of their often overly elaborate costumes, and intricately worked heads and hairstyles, we are left with clean-cut, modernistic figures, perhaps inspired by Cubist painters or by the new purist philosophy of design.
A quote from a Frankart catalogue of the period-states: “Particular emphasis has been stressed on artistic conceptions of streamline designs expressing the modern vogue. Inventive ingenuity has been happily combined with artistic ability to create objets d’art of practicability.”
Within four years of Frankart’s opening, other companies were imitating its designs. Though all Frankart creations were copyrighted, minor changes were all that was needed to reproduce similar designs, although often of poorer quality. Companies that made copies even went so far as to choose names with a similar flavor, such as Nu-art and Eckart.
During the period, Frankart objects such as ashtrays, were used in several of the Busby Berkley musicals and in Marx Brothers films, seen in stylish American home set designs.
After approximately ten years, Frankart closed its doors, a victim of the Great Depression. In the mid-1940s, the bulk of the original Frankart molds were found in storage and sold by weight to a scrap metal firm, where they were melted down.
Reproductions of original Frankart designs are currently on the market, and originals can also be found at reasonable prices.
About the Author:
Robert Salamone was a dealer/collector of Frankart Collectibles at the time of original printing.
Note: This article was originally published in the January-February 1982, Volume 2, Number 1, edition of the Art Deco Society of New York News under the title Frankart Revisited: A Study of the Fantasy Girls of Frankart Incorporated.
Article originally published in the Art Deco New York journal, Vol. 4, Issue 1, Winter 2019. View a digital version of the full journal here.