What better way to start a four-part review of the Cybis ‘literature-based’ studies than with their interpretations of Shakespeare’s immortal characters? I shall leave it to my readers to judge whether or not they think that The Bard would be pleased!
But first a quick word about the “Portraits in Porcelain” as Cybis has always called them. Most are full-figure human studies ranging from 12” to 15” high, but some (such as Juliet shown below) are bust or torso studies. All are limited editions, and the originals (not the later Hall of Fame replicas) all had issue sizes of less than 1000 pieces. Most were issues of either 350, 500 or 750 although there are a few editions of only 200 (and priced accordingly!) The sculptures below are arranged in chronological order by introduction date.
Juliet was among the first group of limited editions released by the studio in 1965; she appears in their very first retail catalog which was produced in black and white. She was created to commemorate the Shakepeare 400th Anniversary in 1964. (Cybis also made a ballet sculpture ‘Romeo and Juliet’ but that was part of their Ballet series, not their Portraits in Porcelain.) She was sculpted by Laszlo Ispanky who was the head artist at Cybis at the time. Juliet was a limited edition of 800 and priced at $175 at introduction; when the edition was completed in 1970 her price had risen to $250. She is 12” high including the base.
This unusual non-standard colorway has burgundy ribbons instead of the usual dark green, slightly different color hair, and somewhat more contrast in the colors of her bodice. It is also missing its base. However, it is signed in the normal way, with a number, not as an Artist’s Proof; perhaps the different colors were done for the original purchaser by request. Interestingly, it appeared in the same 2014 auction sale as a normally-colored Juliet so perhaps they belonged to the same collector.
The other Shakespearean portrait issued in 1965 was Hamlet, a limited editon of 500 priced at $350. The issue was completed in 1974 at $950. He is 12” high. It would be easy to assume that the coat of arms depicted on the back of Hamlet’s chair/throne is that of Denmark but alas, not so – it appears to be purely an artistic invention of the designer.
The photo above shows a Hamlet “in process” at the table of a Cybis artist. There are three interesting color differences between this one and the standard retail piece: his sash is red instead of blue/purple, his cloak is dark instead of white, and his hair is brown instead of grey. Although I have noted two colorways of his shoes in the retail production run — some are pink as above, while others are purple — I have not seen any with red sashes and dark cloaks. (Notice also the flock of Duckling ‘Baby Brother’ fired pieces waiting to be painted.)
The “official” Cybis advertising photo above appears to show a colorway matching the workroom photo (light sash and dark cloak) with one exception: His doublet here is clearly dark rather than gold-on-white. This is one of several examples I have found of a 1960s catalog/ad photo showing a piece in a different colorway or decoration than the ultimate retail edition that was produced. A bit of Cybis trivia: The human model for this sculpture was actually Joseph Chorlton, one of the two directors of the studio!
This OOAK artist-proof Hamlet is painted in shades of blue. It is also extremely dirty!
Hamlet had to wait four years to be joined by Ophelia in 1969; she is 13” high, a limited edition of 800 and was $650 at introduction. She was completed the same year as Hamlet (1974) at $875. If I have one teensy little quibble about the design of Ophelia it’s that the flowers she holds in her hands do not appear in her famous ‘garland speech’:
There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance. Pray you, love, remember. And there is pansies, that’s for thoughts…..There’s fennel for you, and columbines. There’s rue for you, and here’s some for me; we may call it herb of grace o’ Sundays. O, you must wear your rue with a difference. There’s a daisy. I would give you some violets, but they withered all when my father died.
One would think that Cybis would at least have included a pansy, columbine or daisy either in her hand or in her hair, but for some reason they did not.
From The Merchant of Venice we have Portia, a limited edition from 1973 to 1976 and priced at $875 throughout the issue of 750. She is 13.5” tall. This sculpture was designed from a sketch made by Marylin Chorlton while she and her husband were on vacation in Nassau (Bahamas) and happened to notice a bewigged lady jurist walking down the street. The judge agreed to pose for some sketches which were then translated into Portia.
Another stunning Shakespearean portrait is Lady Macbeth, issued in 1975 as a limited edition of 750. She is 13” high and was priced at $850 at introduction. The edition was completed in 1982 at $1125.
Lady Macbeth was so well received that not one but two Hall of Fame replica editions were later produced by the studio in the early 1990s. I have so far discovered a photo of only one of them; the question still pending is, which one is it?
The first HOF edition, named Lady Macbeth II, was 11” tall and was a limited edition of 1000 for $1250 on the 1993 Cybis price list. This edition was either completed or closed before 1999.
The second HOF edition, Lady Macbeth III, was 10” tall and an edition of 1500 for $975 in 1993, at the same time that “II” was being offered. It continued into the 2000s on the Cybis website (but of course with no photo) for $1075.
This lilac/purple version is obviously one of those two; it was sold as part of the studio’s 2019 liquidation. I am waiting to hear how tall it is, at which time I will be able to identify it as either II and III. (Her crown has become detached and has instead been temporarily placed over her right arm.)
If anyone has either of these HOF pieces and would like to share a photo or height information, please use the Contact Form on the About the Cybis Archive page; it would be greatly appreciated!
The first of three Cybis characters from A Midsummer Night’s Dream was Queen Titania, the queen of the fairies. She is appropriately petite at 10.5” high and was a 1977 limited edition of 750 priced at $725. The issue was completed in Spring 1981 at $825. I’m showing three different views of this sculpture so as to capture as much of the delicate detail as possible; this is a piece that really deserves to be displayed in a mirrored cabinet so that it can be appreciated from all sides. This sculpture is a slight reworking of Dawn, a retired early 1960s piece; see Flights of Fantasy for a side by side comparison.
There are two different colorways of the flowers in Queen Titania’s hair: Some are a mauve-pink, while others are white with a red center.
Othello is 15” tall which places him on the larger end of the scale for a Cybis portrait piece. He was priced just under $2000 at introduction in 1983 as an edition of 350; by 1988 he was $3975, and then $4975 in 1993. Othello was designed by Gertrude Fass who was also noted for her work as a television scriptwriter, art teacher, and childrens’ book author as well as for her sculptures in porcelain and bronze.
Desdemona is just very slightly shorter, at 14.5” high; issued in 1982 at $1850, her edition of 350 sold out before 1988. Portions of this figure were designed by Lynn Klockner Brown. Note the elaborate detail work on her robe and the tone on tone white ‘fabric’ of her undergown and sleeves. Unfortunately it’s not that unusual to see a Desdemona offered for sale without the handkerchief in her hand, which is a shame because of its importance in the play – indeed, the plot itself turns mainly upon it. Another problem area is the “golden chain” of porcelain between the two top-corner “clasps” of her robe; several different Desdemonas have been seen on eBay with this element missing (broken off) yet the sculpture described as having no damage. Any Desdemona that is missing either the handkerchief or the robe ‘connector’ would not be in original mint condition.
Puck is, of course, the mischievous fairy troublemaker of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Introduced in 1981 as an edition of 350 priced at $2300, his edition size was reduced to only 200 the following year (1982) and was either completed or closed before 1988. This piece is 14” high.
And finally our lonely Queen Titania was joined by her husband Oberon in 1985. It does seem odd that it took Cybis eight years to issue this companion sculpture! He is 11” tall and was an issue of 750. His original issue price is a matter of some question and is still being researched; one source cited it as $825 which seems on the low side for the mid-1980s full-size limited editions. This piece probably had production problems because it is absent from their 1988 price list, an indication that it was probably closed early a few years prior to that. It’s possible that he may have been produced only for a year or two.
Oberon is holding the magical flower whose ‘juice’ he will drop onto the sleeping Titania’s eyes, causing her to fall in love with the first creature she sees upon waking:
Yet marked I where the bolt of Cupid fell.
It fell upon a little western flower,
Before milk-white, now purple with love’s wound.
And maidens call it “love-in-idleness.”
The actual flower referred to by that nickname is the wild pansy, Viola tricolor – the “purple with love’s wound” being the dark blotches on the petals. However (again) it is definitely not a pansy that Cybis’ Oberon is holding. I think The Bard would deduct a few points for botanical inaccuracy here!
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