Anton Anreith was born in the small Baden village of Riegel in 1754. He was an apprentice in sculpture and woodcarving in the town of Freiburg-im-reisgau.
He enlisted as a soldier on a five-year contract with the Dutch East India Company. Reaching the Cape in 1777, he was employed with other artisans on the building of the new hospital. He was claimed to have been the most accomplished artist ever to work at the Cape. Although he remained in the service of the Company until December 1791, he was permitted to accept commissions from the Lutheran Congregation and later from the Dutch Reformed Church. He converted the facade of Martin Melck’s warehouse into one suitable for a church and built a pulpit, which is generally considered to be his finest work of statuary in wood.
He was promoted to the status of master sculptor in February 1786. He happened to be living in Cape Town at the same time as Louis Michel Thibault, and complemented the work of the French classical architect with his own German baroque style of sculpture. Thibault rated Anreith’s talent so highly, that on one occasion he stipulated that only the German was to execute the sculptural work on a particular project, and that should he not be available, that part of the work should be omitted., Anreith must have been brought into close professional association with Thibault. For the remaining years of his official employment, he was occupied mainly on buildings within the Castle, producing the much-admired relief on the parapet of the Kat balcony. His pulpit in the Groote Kerk also belongs to this period.
He is credited for the introduction of the Cape-Dutch fanlight.
Little is known of Anreith’s youth or training, but tradition has it that at the age of 22 he fled his native Freiburg after damaging a bust he had made for some important personage.
He made his way to Amsterdam, where he joined the service of the Dutch East India Company and was dispatched to its settlement at the Cape in 1777.
At first he worked as a house carpenter, probably on the governor’s house in the Company’s Garden, but his talents must have been recognised for in 1782 he was engaged by the Lutheran congregation to decorate the organ loft in their church in Strand Street This undertaking proved so successful that he was later asked to carve the pulpit in the same church, a task that he completed with the utmost artistry:
In 1786, the Dutch East India Company
In 1786, the Dutch East India Compan appointed Anreith master of sculpture, and from then on he maintained a close association with the architect Louis Michel Thibault. The figures of the infant gods, Neptune and Mercury, on the fa<;:ade of Tuynhuys in the Gardens are believed to have been executed by him in this period; so are the decorative reliefs on the Kat balcony and the fountain of the inner courtyard of the Castle of Good Hope. He also undertook the carving of the pulpit in the Groote Kerk, in Adderley Street, completing it in 1789, and the sculpture for the organ in the old church in Paarl.
In 1791, Anreith resigned from the Company in order to work privately as a sculptor In this year, he was commissioned to convert the fa<;:ade of the Strand Street Lutheran church, formerly a warehouse, to a style more appropriate to a place of worship.
Created at the same time, and even more famous, is his majestic pediment over the entrance to the wine cellar at Groot Constantia.
He was probably responsible, too, for the figure of Abundance which stands in a niche in the front gable of the same house.
Like Thibault, Anreith worked comfortably under the Dutch, the British and the Batavian governments at the Cape, executing work officially for all of them. By the time the British arrived as conquerors for a second time in 1806, he had founded his own school, an institution which he merged, in 1814, with the Technical School founded by the Freemasons of the Loge de Goede Hoop. This continued to operate until 1822, the year of Anreith’s death.
Anreith’s last years were not happ}C He never married and lived in straitened circumstances. Nevertheless, besides the works already mentioned, he was responsible for such marvellous creations as the lions and lionesses on the gateway to the menagerie at the top of the Government Avenue, the lion and unicorn on the back of the Cultural History Museum, the British coat of arms and the figures of Britannia and Neptune on the old Customs House building in the Buitenkant. Also attributed to Anreith are the elaborate design of the fanlights at Rust en Vreugd in the Gardens, and seven larger-than-Iife sculptured symbolic statues in the temple of the Masonic Loge de Goede Hoop.
Sadly not all of these works survive intact, but sufficient of Anreith’s creations remain to secure his place among the greatest of all South Africa’s craftsmen.