Edmund Rosenstengel, the most highly regarded furniture maker in Brisbane from the 1920s to the 1950s, provided the benchmark of excellence in his field for several generations. This acquisition, purchased for the Collection with the generous assistance of Valmai Pidgeon, AM, is a piece that Rosenstengel made for himself.
Edmund Rosenstengel (1887–1962) was born in Toowoomba, where he was apprenticed in 1902 to Rosenstengel & Kleimeyer, his father’s cabinetmaking business. He was later to work in Sydney, Auckland, Vancouver, and the Grand Rapids in the United States, as well as in England and Europe, before returning to Toowoomba to rejoin the family firm in 1911. In 1922, he settled in Brisbane and established a business of his own in Fortitude Valley, where he remained until his retirement in 1958. Rosenstengel’s work was distinguished by the use of Queensland timbers, particularly Queensland maple and silky oak, together with elaborate carving and marquetry inlay.
Popular items included black-stained oak dining tables and sideboards in the Jacobean style, suited to the ‘Tudor residences’ and ‘Spanish mission villas’ that were popular in the fashionable suburbs of Brisbane from the late 1920s. Other popular suites of furniture, for dining and bedrooms, were made in a simplified Queen Anne style. His most exceptional works date from the 1930s and follow the Edwardian taste for period revival styles. The Duke of Gloucester (later the Governor-General of Australia, 1945–47) toured Australia in 1934 to participate in the centenary celebrations of the state of Victoria; during his visit to Brisbane, he slept in a suite of Louis XV-style furniture specially commissioned by the Queensland Government for Government House.
The furniture Rosenstengel made for his own home in Harcourt Street, New Farm, such as this chest of drawers, was of equivalent quality. The chest follows the model of that in the Government House suite but the bound reeds at the corners (fasces) reflect the inspiration of Neoclassicism in the succeeding period of Louis XVI. This is emphasised by the use of Wedgwood’s blue and white cameos, which were widely used in English furniture of the late eighteenth century. A contemporary element is added by the black glass (vitrolite), which protects the top surface.
After surviving the Depression and the restrictions of World War Two, Rosenstengel was able to return to active business — indeed, by the early 1950s, his workforce and output rivalled those of the pre-war years. However, around this time, Rosenstengel’s health began failing, and he announced the closure of the company in 1956. A final flurry of orders from his loyal clientele required him to remain in business until March 1958, at which time he finally closed up rather than risk tarnishing his reputation.
Glenn R Cooke is former Research Curator, Queensland Heritage, QAGOMA
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