Inlaid native timber fit for a queen
He was one of New Zealand’s finest craftsmen, with work displayed in royal palaces and private collections around the world.
But cabinetmaker Anton Seuffert died in poverty, leaving his Kingsland widow to beg for a pension to survive.
His story inspired greatgreat-grandson Brian Peet to write The Seuffert Legacy about his life and work.
“I find it a fascinating reflection on early New Zealand and what people had to go through to live in this country,” Mr Peet says. “It was a tough life.” Mr Seuffert learned his trade near Vienna making cabinets for the Austrian emperor, and later for royal households in London.
He moved to New Zealand with his wife and two young children in 1859, settling in Auckland.
Life was difficult for the couple, who had five more children, including a son lost to typhoid fever at age 11.
Anton, and later his sons William, Albert and Carl, became renowned for their work with native timbers.
The pieces with intricate inlaid designs featuring local birds and plants took months, even years, to finish.
Mr Peet’s research showed large cabinets could sell for more than £80, at a time when a substantial house in Remuera could be bought for £450.
The price meant most were sold to British dignitaries or produced as gifts for royal visits.
Despite this, the family continued to live in poverty, Mr Peet says.
“All his money was just being used to keep his tribe of kids alive. There’s no evidence of any wealth.”
When Anton died in 1887 he left his wife destitute and reliant on support from her sons.
The family business was continued by eldest son Wil- liam, who died in 1943.
Mr Peet says he became interested in the Seuffert story because of his family connection – he is descended from eldest daughter Josifieni, known as Sophie – and has an interest in woodwork.
“I started collecting infor- mation and taking photos of pieces as they came up at public auction,” the Greenlane resident says.
He discovered about 120 Seuffert works, including pieces held in the Royal Kew Gardens, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, Te Papa and the Auckland War Memorial Museum.
Mr Peet says he’s still astounded by the standard of craftsmanship.
“It just blows me away, some of the pieces are just so complex.”
Art+Object director Ross Millar says pieces rarely come up for auction but can fetch as much as $350,000.
He says Mr Seuffert’s work is the epitome of top-end Victorian cabinetry.
The Seuffert Legacy is at some bookshops or on www. seuffert.co.nz.
Royal gift: The cabinet presented to Queen Victoria by the citizens of Auckland and displayed at the London Exhibition in 1862.
Master craft: Brian Peet, author of a book on Seuffert furniture, holds a veneer box made by his great-great-grandfather Anton Seuffert.