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 and designed by Laszlo Ispanky.
Flight Into Egypt is 13″ high and was produced from 1960 to 1970 in white bisque only, an is attached to a wood base. This piece had a significant edition size reduction, having been introduced with a declared issue of 750. When it became clear that it was not selling well, the studio reduced the final edition size to only 50 before deciding to accept no more orders. That revelation occurred sometime between late 1963 and early 1967; the Spring 1963 price list still shows this as an edition of 750, but an August 1967 list (the next one I have) shows it as a “closed” edition of only 50. In Cybis parlance, “closed” meant “we are taking no more orders from retailers for this”, whereas “completed” meant “the final piece has physically been sent out of the door.” This piece 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 invisible 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.
When the Cybis building was put up for sale in 2019, I spotted something unusual in one of the listing photos: a brown or bronze-colored version of the JFK Tribute piece, indicated by the green arrow. It’s possible that the color/finish on this may be the same as seen on the gold-washed Prophet but not as dark; they may have simply omitted the gold highlights on this, given the somber subject, or they simply may not show up even in this enlarged area of the photo at that distance. This piece was not included in the auction-house liquidation of most of the items left in the studio.
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