More of Polly Devlin’s daftest discoveries …
Victorian Staffordshire Dogs
These two dogs are tobacco jars. When one lifts the smaller one’s head, it comes off halfway up his eyes, which gives him a comically macabre startled appearance. I found him in a shop in Donegall Pass in Belfast, years ago, during the Troubles. He cheered me up no end. (I also remember that the mantelpiece and grate shop there was called Alexander the Grate). The malevolent-eyed bulldog, whose head revolves around like something out of The Exorcist I found in The Lacquer Chest in Kensington Church Street, the best little antique shop in London (yes, I’m friends with the owners.) I always want everything in it, and have to be led past it, blinkered like an old horse.
A Spaghetti Poodle
Isn’t this a ridiculous stuck-up dignified person with his impeccable pompom topknot, his buckled red collar and his black toenails sitting quite at home on his gold ecclesiastical stand? He is a prime example of a spaghetti poodle. I had never heard of spaghetti dogs and cats until my daughter Daisy found this one in a shop in the East Village in Manhattan in 2001. She wouldn’t find it now – there exists a whole network of obsessive collectors ready to pounce. I’m not one but I would be if I could – I only have four. Sob. The minute Daisy spied it she knew I would love it and I would certainly try to rescue it – along with Queenie, my living spaghetti dog – if there were a fire in the house. These kitsch, whimsical, comical, delightful and fragile animals were first created by an Italian ceramist artist Teodoro Sebelin in the 1920s in his studio in Nove, a small town near Venice. They were a success and over the decades, Sebelin and his partners created more than 3,000 editions. Other studios followed, creating their own versions (at one point there were over 200 potteries in Nove). They made terrific souvenirs, and many were brought back from Italy to the USA by American GIs after the war. (BTW there are still over more than 100 ceramics stores in Nove). The carved gilt wooden stand was a throw-out from Armagh Catholic Cathedral. I hate to relate this but all the cool shelves in my larder, and the elaborate corbels and gothicky pillars in the garden are made from the crafted marble thrown out after its interior was ruined in the early 1960s to conform to the edicts of Pope John XXIII to revolutionise Catholic practices and to modernise its churches and chapels. It needed doing but it resulted in the ruination of many much-loved church interiors. Those who undertook these make-overs were often ignorant priests without a clue about aesthetics or architecture. Some of them look like unwelcoming coffee bars. I benefited.
Leda and the Swan?
I think there’s more of a story than meets the eye in this beautifully modelled naked figure lying with such monumental grief on her sofa, covered in strategically draped fabric. It’s one of a pair, probably Regency, and I’ve never seen another such pair and now all innocence has fled, I don’t want to, since I now fear that they may tell a terrible story. One is dressed in an elaborately draped flowered gown, albeit with two pert bosoms exposed and is sleeping peacefully on rocks, as if by the seaside. But in the one here, the same gown is now ripped and flung carelessly on the painted decorated sofa with its masculine headrest. I think I may have bought a sorry tale of rape, perhaps the aftermath of Leda and the swan? I hope not. Behind the betrayed weeping figure is what once was a perfectly standard antique Staffordshire greyhound holding a rabbit. These were always made in pairs but the decoration on this piece is extraordinary and I am perfectly certain it is a Bloomsbury piece. I’d love to say Omega, that groundbreaking workshop opened by the artist and writer Roger Fry in 1913 to make furniture and objects far removed from the prevalent heavy Victorian furnishings. Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant were directors and brought their gifts to the decorative arts, but they never signed their work. Fry believed that objects and furniture should only be bought and treasured for their appeal and beauty rather than as an investment in an artist’s work. I’m with him all the way. But putting that lurid greyhound with its dripping prey above the damsel in distress is not a kind thing to do. I’m a bit shaken up by my discovery. Or maybe she has just come back from a wild swim.
PHOTOGRAPHS BY TOM CRAIG