I am always excited to see what the exhibitors of Masterpiece London have been able to dig up, and I was particularly intrigued to learn that Simon Phillips, owner of antiques dealers Ronald Phillips, has a table that belonged to Daisy Fellowes – one of the most fatale of femmes from the art-deco years.
Daisy Fellowes was, as legend has it, a decidedly unpleasant woman with an overactive libido. When she was not bullying her guests, she was breaking up marriages and seducing men – something she viewed as a sort of sporting activity. And she was not above using performance-enhancing drugs: Duff Cooper, one of her many lovers, is rumoured to have observed that she smoked opium, which lowered what inhibitions she might have had to nothing.
She was, however, rich, beautiful and chic, and conformed to the brittlely attractive stereotype of the age. She was photographed by Cecil Beaton, was a guest at the Beistegui Ball and was the woman to popularise the Tutti Frutti-style of jewellery from Cartier. And I remember hearing once that she did a great deal to make leopard skin fashionable in interior design.
Certainly, the table that Simon Phillips has would have appealed to Daisy’s magpie eye for colour: it is a specimen marble table atop a giltwood base. Such table tops were a fad with the Grand Tourists of the 18th century, who tended to pick them up from ritzy souvenir sellers while visiting Rome’s ancient sites. It is antique bling at its brightest, as the guiding principle of the specimen table was to cram as many variously coloured marbles onto the top of one piece of furniture as possible.
I have long had a fondness for this sort of marble-topped furniture. Although recollections of my tertiary education are somewhat patchy (much as old hippies say that if you can remember the 1960s then you weren’t there, so it was with Oxford in the mid-1980s), I do have memories of a rather fancy marble table in a sort of vestibule leading into the library of All Souls. It was there for years and had a big crack in it – come to think of it, I should have made them an offer for it.
When these Grand Tourists returned to their stately homes they would get someone to knock up a base for the thing. In the case of Daisy’s table, I was told by Simon that the handsome base was designed by John Linnell with the medallion of Apollo in the centre and draped with laurel leaves. Apollo, god of the arts and intellectual pursuits, was apparently chosen to reflect the education and knowledge of the patron commissioning the table.
I rather think that had Daisy Fellowes commissioned this table she might have selected those fun-loving deities Eros and Dionysus to reflect her interests in life.