There is a small group of Cybis pieces that depart noticeably from the ‘recognizably Cybis’ retail design aesthetic. All of them were created during the first half of the 1960s except for one that may or may not actually have been a Cybis product.
Flight Into Egypt is 13″ high and was produced from 1960 to 1970 in white bisque only, with an accompanying wood base as shown in the first photo. According to the 1979 Cybis catalog appendix this originally had a declared edition of 750 which was reduced to only 50 before closing; however, I suspect that the 750 may be a typographical error for either 50 or 150. It was priced at $175 throughout.
Ispanky produced this same figure in bronze but I do not know whether he did it before joining the Cybis studio (in the late 1950s) or after he left. This 1986 Ispanky catalog image captions this as being 56″ high (!) which if correct would mean it was about 75% life size and must have been incredibly heavy! One wonders what ultimately happened to it after Ispanky’s death.
The Prophet is another figure that was produced in porcelain at Cybis and in bronze at Ispanky’s studio. The Cybis piece was made from 1960 to 1969 and is about 20″ high and 9.5″ wide on its wood base. It weighs a bit more than 7 lbs. Unlike Flight into Egypt, this was an issue of 50 throughout its production run, but it is cited as having been available both in plain white bisque and also in “color” which appears to refer to the colorway in the second photograph. The 1971 museum catalog Cybis in Retrospect describes it as being “white with gold decoration”. Both colorways sold for $250 during their production runs. (My first reaction on seeing a photo of this piece was to call it “Mister Spock”, despite the invisble ears and somewhat dissimilar hand position; must be the haircut!)
Two of the white ones came up for sale online within the past year and the difference in their signatures piqued my curiosity. The Cybis name on the #2 piece was hand-signed with a brush in the manner typical of Cybis retail pieces after the 1950s, but on the #45 piece the signature was applied with the same stamp that the studio used during the 1940s and 1950s (and which seemingly dropped out of usage after Marylin Chorlton took over the studio in the late 1950s.) I wouldn’t have thought twice about seeing the stamped name on one of the first few Prophet pieces, but to see it on one (seemingly) produced a decade after the studio discontinued the stamped name did make me do a doubletake. I have no doubt that the #45 is indeed a genuine Prophet but do wonder why the artist chose not to sign the piece by hand in the normal way for the 1960s.
This is Ispanky’s bronze version which differs from the Cybis one only in size; it is eight inches taller even without the base, which means that the bronze is about 1/3 larger overall (or, conversely, the porcelain version was downsized by a third.) Again we don’t know the timeframe relationship of the two mediums.
Exodus, introduced in 1960 and completed in 1966, was an Ispanky design as well. It was an edition of 50 that sold for $350 throughout, making it the most expensive of this group of three. The porcelain itself is 18″ high and 13″ wide when measured in profile, and was sold mounted onto a 1″ thick wood base.
The bronze that Ispanky issued as a limited edition from his own studio in 1975 was also titled “Exodus” but unlike the two foregoing is not the identical sculpture to what he did for Cybis. However, there are clear similarities between the woman in the Ispanky bronze and the Cybis porcelain release. The bronze Ispanky group is 17″ high.
In April 1999 a New York Times article reported on an exhibit of Ispanky works at the American Hungarian Foundation in New Brunswick, NJ, saying
Several of the works on display are clay models; some are plaster casts, but a majority are finished bronzes. A major characteristic of Mr. Ispanky’s bronze pieces, cast by the lost-wax process, is the final phase of the process, which involves plaster molds and often a scaling-down in size. Often, the bronze surface has a rough texture that matches the texture of the worked clay.
This is very obvious when comparing the porcelain and bronze versions of Flight Into Egypt and The Prophet.
It’s likely that the John F. Kennedy Tribute was also sculpted by Ispanky. It is 21″ high, 11.5″ wide and about 6″ deep on its wood base with brass plaque. Although this piece – the only one I have seen come up for sale to date – is numbered as #1, it’s not known whether this was a retail issue (and if so, what the issue size was) because it is not included in the 1979 catalog appendix list at all. However, that list is not and doesn’t purport to be a complete one. This no doubt dates from 1964.
This man’s head in a brick motif is 16″ high and has an open top; was it intended as some sort of vase? Signed Cybis and marked (though a bit smudgily!) as an AP, it was sold twice to date: first in the USA in June 2013 for $400, and then by a Polish auction house in autumn 2014 for 8500Z which was the equivalent of about $2200. Although I have no concrete (sorry!) reason for the assumption, I wouldn’t be surprised if this too was an Ispanky design that was never chosen by Cybis to be a retail piece. However, it might also be a 1940s prototype with later (modern) markings added by the studio, as noted below.
(Five sculptures that were originally included in this post have been identified as 1940s pieces that had later markings added by the studio; these have been moved to the 1940s Cybis post.)
Is It or Isn’t It?
This final piece is one that I am including with the caveat that it MAY be a Cybis piece but it’s equally possible that it isn’t. It was sold by the same Polish auctioneer (Desa Unicum) as the “brickman” above. It was described simply as Boleslaw Cybis, prototype, ceramic, 28×16 cm (about 9″ x 6″) and unlike the Brickman this bears no signature. The only marks shown in the photographs are the incised words “Side no sponge” on the underside.
There are three arguments against this having been a product of the Cybis studio. First of all, while we’ve seen some pretty unusual designs here, none are as starkly modern as this. (Looks to me like a pretty close interpretation of a Cylon helmet, in fact!) Nor have we seen this type of ‘crackle finish’ on any other Cybis porcelain piece. If the modern studio were to mark a piece with finishing instructions, it would usually have been with a pencil or marking pen rather than incising the wet clay with a stylus as this notation appears to be. In fact the only design factor matching up with any known Cybis piece is the open eye/helmet slits but that’s hardly definitive. It’s possible that this and the Brickman might have come from the same consignor but that doesn’t necessarily mean – in the absence of any documentation or provenance – that it too is a Cybis.
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