Although Cybis never created any sort of “maritime collection”, a selection of their sculptures do fit into a seagoing theme – so, why not?
Our first candidate is a bird but because they are so closely associated with the ocean it seemed logical to include the Penguin, which was produced for only a single year (1966–1967) and retailed for $35. He is 5.25” high. It would be at least twenty years before another Cybis penguin would appear.
This natty pair from Cybis is called Penguins ‘Steppin’ Out’, an open edition from 1987 that was priced at $285. Approximately 6.25” high, they last waddled on the Cybis website for $395.
The Sea King’s Steed ‘Oceania’ didn’t seem to fit with the unicorns or pegasi and so I have placed him here! At 14” high this hippocampus was produced only 1977-1981 and was designed by Lynn Klockner Brown. The original declared edition of 350 was reduced to only 200 before closing. His introduction price was $1250 and he closed at $1450. The name is sometimes misspelled as ‘Oceanea’ in the secondary market. (Cybis also included a seahorse as one of their Carousel Equines.)
Also designed by Lynn Brown, Sharmaine the Sea Nymph appeared in 1978 for $1450 and was closed only four years later (1982.) She is 13” high and originally had a declared issue of 500 sculptures, which was halved to only 250 before closing at $1525. However, in 1993 I purchased a Sharmaine directly from the Cybis Studio which is marked both A.P. and #501. She does not differ in decoration from the retail version, which lends more weight to my personal theory that the “painting standard” artist proof may have been automatically numbered at the start of production as the original declared edition size +1 (see Edition Size Discrepancies for other theories of overnumbered sculptures). In fact I have a Persephone, also purchased from the Studio, which is numbered in exactly the same way. It is very possible that there are other Sharmaines that are numbered higher than the final edition size of only 250. This particular sculpture seems to have a wider range of variation in its tints and hues than many other Cybis pieces, especially in the mermaid’s tail and hair.
This Mermaid was available in both a white bisque/gold version (shown) and also a color version which I have never seen but am curious about. Standing 9.25” tall, it is a non-limited edition. Both colorways were offered at $795 from Cybis in the early 2000s. This is a much later sculpture than Sharmaine and probably dates from the 1990s. These two designs seem to be the only mermaids that Cybis produced… however an old online auction listing from 1994, without an accompanying illustration, cites a “Cybis mermaid, 6” high”. It’s possible that there was a downsized version of this mermaid but I’ve been unable to find any reference to it other than that single auction listing.
The Humpback Whale was one of two special commissions by the Cousteau Society released in the same year (1981). Part of the proceeds from each sale benefitted the Cousteau Society. It is an impressive 16.75” high on its base (which the example in the second photo is missing) and was a declared limited edition of 500 priced at $1750. By 1988 the edition size had been reduced to 250 and its price was $2475.
Although each sculpture bears the name of Jean Michel Cousteau, son of Jacques Cousteau, although only a few of the pieces were actually signed by him; the others were signed by the Cybis studio with his name pursuant to an agreement with Mr. Cousteau. The photo above shows a piece with an actual Jean Cousteau signature.
The sculpture was designed by Charles Oldham who did most of Cybis’ best animal and bird limited edition studies.
This photo shows Jean Cousteau and Chuck Oldham with one of the Humpback Whale sculptures on its base (the unpainted white bisque whale at left is not a retail piece.) The typical retail piece probably had the dark wood base shown in the first and fourth photos; the finished sculpture shown in the photo above was probably an artist’s proof given to Mr. Cousteau.
The other Cousteau Society sculpture is Arion the Dolphin Rider. Issued in 1981 it is 11” high with a declared edition of 1000 at $575. By 1988 his price was $925. Recurring confusion arises because of the small white mermaid/dolphin/name elements shown in the photo below. As a result, some sellers have listed this piece incorrectly named as “Calypso”; Calypso was, of course, the name of Jacques Cousteau’s famous ship.
The Cousteau signature on this piece is an example of one that was applied by Cybis under license from Jean Michel Cousteau, rather than being signed by him personally.
As you can see, the actual and “faux Cousteau” signatures are not very much alike. Unfortunately, many (most?) buyers were under the impression that all of the pieces had been actually signed by Mr. Cousteau.
Normally there is no certificate of authenticity for a Cybis piece but because these were a commission for the Cousteau Society, these were furnished. The sculpture’s number would be inserted into the blank space. I wonder if any of the original purchasers questioned the difference between the Jean Cousteau’s actual signature (on the COA) versus an obviously different handwriting on the accompanying sculpture? Of course most of the pieces found for sale today have long since parted company with their certificate.
The Cybis signature and mold impressions are on the underside of Arion. Rather unusally for a Cybis, the location of the individual sculpture number on this piece can vary; on some pieces it is located adjacent to the Cousteau name, but on others it can appear on the lower (side) edge of any one of the waves.
The legend of Arion appears in Herodotus’ Histories written approximately 450 BC. As told in Godley’s translation:
Arion….after he had made a lot of money [as a musician in Italy and Sicily] wanted to come back to Corinth….[and] hired a Corinthian vessel to carry him from Tarentum. But when they were out at sea, the crew plotted to take Arion’s money and cast him overboard. Discovering this, he earnestly entreated them, asking for his life and offering them his money. But the crew….told him either to kill himself and so receive burial on land or else to jump into the sea at once. ….Arion asked that, since they had made up their minds, they would let him stand on the half-deck in all his regalia and sing; and he promised that after he had sung he would do himself in. …putting on all his regalia and taking his lyre, [he] stood up on the half-deck and sang the “Stirring Song,” and when the song was finished he threw himself into the sea, as he was with all his regalia. So the crew sailed away to Corinth; but a dolphin (so the story goes) took Arion on his back and bore him to Taenarus. …and there is a little bronze memorial of Arion on Taenarus, the figure of a man riding upon a dolphin.
The Cybis piece is actually a close adaptation of the bronze Boy and Dolphin created by Carl Paul Jennewein; during the 1960s Mr. Jennewein, then in his seventies, visited the Cybis studio and sold them several of his plaster maquettes; Arion was cast from one of those. The porcelain adaptation was done by Lynn Klockner Brown. (In 1993 the bronze shown above was consigned to Sotheby’s in New York, whereupon it was acquired by the Tampa Museum of Art in order to add to their large Jennewein collection. Fifteen years later the museum liquidated some of its holdings and consigned it to a local auction house where it ultimately sold for $60 plus the buyer’s premium.)
During the 1990s Cybis issued three size versions of the same dolphin which is part of Arion. (See Upsize Downsize if you are interested in how porcelain is up- and down-scaled.) All were open editions shown on the 2009 Cybis website, listed simply as Dolphin followed by (small), (medium) or (large). The dimensions and prices were: Small 3.25” h x 5” w at $195; Medium [shown in photo] 4.5” h x 6” w at $295; and Large 5.25” h x 7” w at $395.
Dolphin, Sitting on Tail is the same sculpture/mold but this time in a vertical orientation. It too was an open edition. It is 5.25” high which means it is probably the Small size Dolphin, and was $395 from Cybis.
The adorable Baby Harp Seal ‘Arctic Pup’ was introduced in 1984 as an open edition; he is 4” high. Originally Cybis called him Arctic Pup ‘A.P.’ but quickly realized that this could too easily be confused with the abbreviation for an artist’s proof… hence his name revision. He last appeared on the Cybis site for $195.
The only other Cybis seal is Sebastian who was part of their Circus collection; an open edition long retired. I almost didn’t include him here because he is not depicted “in nature” but again… why not? He was introduced in 1976 at $135 and is 5.5” high.
Also in the marine mammal department we have Walrus ‘Wellington’ who was introduced in 1983 as an open edition for $150. He is 4.5” high and as long.
But here we have a very special – in fact he’s one of a kind – Walrus dressed in a natty sailor costume. You can just about see, in the second photo, his name (“Joe”) on the left breast. Joe the Skipper Walrus was a special gift made by the Cybis artists to the studio’s owner, Joseph Chorlton, for his 62nd birthday. The inscription on the underside reads “Happy Birthday to our Skipper from the Cybis Crew 11-11-85”. They all knew how much he loved sailing, hence the walrus’ nautical motif. This charming fellow then resided in Mr. Chorlton’s office at the studio for more than 25 years.
Regarding other denizens of the deep, Cybis never did portray (as a main subject) any fish, crustaceans, undersea plants such an anemone, naturalistic seahorse or turtle, or pelagic birds such as a gull, tern, pelican or albatross — which does seem like rather a missed opportunity!
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