Although Cybis never created any sort of “maritime collection”, a selection of their sculptures do fit into a seagoing theme – so, why not?
The very first sea-based Cybis (ouch, sorry, could not resist!) appears in their Spring 1963 price list but nowhere else in any literature I currently have. Titled Sea Nymph, it must have been a mermaid, was 12″ high, made in white bisque only. Although it was a limited edition it was an uncharacteristically large one: 1000 pieces! It was not until 1972, with the introduction of the first Rapunzel, that the studio would offer another edition size that large. The 1963 price for the Sea Nymph was $100. If anyone has one of these, I would love to add a photo here; there is a contact-form link at the bottom of this post.
Our next 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 is called Penguins ‘Steppin’ Out’, a 6.25″ high, nonlimited edition from 1987 that was priced at $285. They waddle about on the 1993 Cybis price list (wherein they are misspelled as “penquins”!) at $325.
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.
Another watery equine is the Carousel Seahorse from 1987, a limited edition of 500 by Susan Eaton. It sold for $1075 and is 11.5″ tall on its base.
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 introduced between 1994 and late 1995 in both this white bisque/gold version for $595 and also a color version, which I have never seen but am curious about, for $695. Standing 9.25” tall, it was a non-limited edition.
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 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; in 1993 the Cybis price was $3250. Can you spot the differences between the two examples above?
Answer: The whale in the top photo is missing its original base, but includes the two tiny seabirds atop the waves in the front section. The whale in the bottom example has its base (although it appears to have some damage) but the birds have been broken off and lost. Thus, neither piece is in mint condition. It is very difficult to find a Humpback Whale that still retains both of the seabirds and its original base.
This whale was offered on eBay in late 2019; the areas where the seabirds were once attached is obvious if one knows where to look.
Yet another whale with a base but no birds.
Update: In the summer of 2020, a whale was offered on eBay with its seabirds still intact (but unfortunately, no base.) It was interesting to see that the seabirds on that one were painted differently from the ones in the Replacements.com photo shown above.
A convenient detail photo allows us to compare these brown/tan birds with the ones shown on Cybis’ 1982 catalog photo of this piece (which are the same birds seen on the Replacements.com item photo.) There is quite a difference in the wing shape and orientation as well as in painting. This does lead me to wonder whether the brown/tan birds are in fact replacement parts that a former owner added (or had a repair person add) when the original Cybis birds either broke off or were otherwise missing. The brown birds are definitely not one would expect from ‘Cybis quality’.
Although each sculpture bears the name of Jean Michel Cousteau, son of Jacques Cousteau, only some of the pieces were really signed by him; all of the others were actually signed by a Cybis studio artist instead, perhaps pursuant to some type of agreement with Mr. Cousteau (or so one would hope) for them to do so. The photo above shows a piece with a genuine 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 standard retail piece had the dark wood base shown in the previous photos; the finished sculpture shown in the photo above was probably an artist’s proof given to Mr. Cousteau. Notice that the seabirds can be discerned on both pieces (the slim white ‘bit’ extending out from the white bisque whale is a seabird wing.)
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, and $1275 in 1993. 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 someone at the Cybis studio, rather than being signed by him personally.
As you can see, the actual and “faux Cousteau” signatures are not very much alike. Unfortunately, Cybis continued to advertise all of the Whales and Arions as being “signed by Jean Cousteau” even though that was only true for some of them.
Normally there is no certificate of authenticity for any Cybis piece but because these were a commission for the Cousteau Society, these were given to the buyer. The sculpture’s number would be inserted into the blank space. I wonder if any of the original purchasers noticed and questioned the disparity between Jean Cousteau’s actual signature (on the COA) versus an obviously different handwriting on the accompanying sculpture? Of course almost all of the pieces seen for sale nowadays have long since parted company with their 1981 certificate.
The Cybis signature and mold impressions are on the underside of Arion. Rather unusually 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 copy of the bronze Boy and Dolphin created by Carl Paul Jennewein. 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.)
This item was never released at retail; these are test pieces which I’ve dubbed the Neptune Dish. These two test pieces differ slightly in the decoration colors: The first example has silver dolphins but they are red-and-gold in the second. Two of the ‘black pearls’ have also come unglued from the rim of the second dish. Because these were part of a multi-item, multi-sale liquidation of the studio’s stock, no dimensions were provided. I would not be at all surprised if these date from 1980s as well. [photos courtesy of the Museum of American Porcelain Art]
In the early 1990s took Arion’s dolphin mold and cast it as a separate non-limited edition in three size options. (See Upsize Downsize if you are interested in how porcelain is up- and down-scaled.) On their Fall 1993 price list they are shown as Dolphin in Small, Medium, and Large. The dimensions and prices were listed as Small 3.25” h x 5” w for $195; Medium 4.5” h x 6” w for $295; and Large 5.25” h x 7” w for $395. In the above photo the smaller dolphin is 4” high and 5.25” wide, while the larger is 5” high and 7” wide.
Dolphin, Sitting on Tail is the same sculpture/mold but this time placed in a vertical orientation. It too was a non-limited edition starting in the early 1990s. This 5.25” high example (the Large dolphin when made as horizontal) was $395 from Cybis in 1993.
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 was priced at $145 in 1988 which later rose to $195 and remained there.
This pair of Baby Harp Seals together is an unpainted test piece that was never produced for retail sale.
The only other Cybis seal is Sebastian who was part of their Circus collection. I almost didn’t include him here because he is not depicted “in nature” but again… why not? He is 5.5″ high overall and was introduced in 1976 at $135, then retired in either 1980 or 1981.
Also in the marine mammal department we have Walrus ‘Wellington’ who was introduced in 1983 as a nonlimited edition for $150. He is 4.5” high and as long. In 1993 Cybis priced him at $245.
But here we have a very special 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 chose to portray (as did Boehm, several times) any fish as the piece’s main subject — which does seem like rather a missed opportunity!
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