Among the unusual 1940s ‘papka’ composition figures by Cybis is a charming group of six angels, each playing an instrument, called the Angelic Orchestra. They were listed, but not pictured, in the 1971 museum exhibit catalog Cybis in Retrospect.
Each angel is approximately 14″ high and dates from the earliest years of the Cybis studio. Judging by the signatures on two of the three angels shown, they were created by Marja (Maria) Cybis rather than by Boleslaw; it’s not known at this point whether all of them were hers but it does seem likely. The colors are very muted shades of yellow, blue and pink. Five members of the Orchestra appear below and I hope to eventually be able to locate a photo of the sixth; if anyone happens to have her, there is a contact form link at the bottom of this page.
The titles of the six angels are the Violinist, Mandolinist, French Horn player, Cellist, Guitarist, and Lyricist.
This photo appeared in a 1941 issue of the trade magazine Interiors, within a selection of products under the heading A Winnowing of the Gift and Accessory Markets. The caption for this image was
Angels in Cybis fresco. A new sculptured art in pastel colorings, by Boleslaw Cybis, $25 ea.
This very conveniently tells us their original price point!
The Violinist angel wears a soft pink dress with a pattern of simple “flowers” in white paint. Two pink flowers decorate the sash at her waist and several more at the sculpture’s base. Her scarf, flowing behind her, has a more elaborate painted pattern. The soft texture of Cybis’ proprietary papka material allows for a great deal of freeform shaping and curves, as can be seen in the other 1940s examples in that medium.
The fat ringlets of hair on most female papka figures are also present in many of their Cordey items which were done in porcelain. However, the full chubby cheeks of these happy musical angels convey a quite different style from the ‘sophisticated’ Cordey ladies!
Conversely, papka does not lend itself to the fine details possible in porcelain, especially when shaping hands and feet. The long separated fingers seen in later studies such as Beatrice and Juliet simply aren’t possible with papka.
The MC signature on this angel stands for Maria Cybis, wife of Boleslaw. She seems to have switched to “Maria” from her birth name of Marja fairly soon after they settled in America; her gravestone also says Maria. (The full range of Cybis signatures is shown in this post.)
Here’s a Violinist in a darker coloration for comparison. Notice, too, that the decoration on the base is entirely different. This “no two exactly alike” was a defining characteristic of most papka pieces.
The French Horn Player
The French Horn player is a much narrower sculpture overall, with even her wings held much closer to her body than the other two. She also has a multipart sash at her waist rather than a scarf. Notice that the leaves at her waist-bouquet are painted as being variegated (green on white). Like the Violinist, her flower decoration is also pink.
Her dress is also a bit more patterned, with the addition of a hashmark motif and some scrollwork at the hemline. A similarly patterned scarf can be seen on the Woman’s Head bust in the 1940s Papka post.
The leaves adorning the base also appear to be a combination of green and white, unlike the solid green on the Violinist’s.
This angel is not only marked but also signed and dated: the MC as well as Mrs. Cybis’ full name and the year 1940.
The Mandolinist is decorated with yellow base flowers and also has a single large bloom at her waist although – unlike the others – it is on the opposite side from the bow. Her dress is a little bit plainer than the other two but she sports a patterned scarf.
Although this angel was not signed (no doubt an accidental oversight) she is clearly a match for the others.
The expression on this angel’s face is delightful; she looks as if she has just seen something very amusing in the audience and is trying her very best to not giggle! She fared the worst as far as damage over time, both on the head and upper body as well as missing fingers on her right hand. And although all three angels arrived at their current owner damaged due to careless handling and packing, this angel emerged in worse shape than “Venus de Milo”: her scarf, all of her hair, both arms and both wings were broken off! Her amazing restoration truly does seem like a miracle.
A second example of a Mandolinist has been found, thanks to a reader who shared photos of one purchased by a family member. This Mandolinist has blonde hair and even more subtle coloration than the one shown above.
This angel’s mandolin has keys at the top of the neck, and even sports a handy shoulder strap!
The signature here is M.B. Cybis plus the MC “monogram” seen on many 1940s pieces by Marja. This angel was accompanied by two small Marja Cybis papka fairies at the time of purchase from an estate.
Here are all three angels “performing” together.
From a different source comes a photo of the Cellist and there will be additional photos of her added at a later date. Unlike the three foregoing examples, this one is in an unpainted state. The darker areas are probably due to age or dust accumulation over time; the porous nature of papka makes it impossible to ‘deep clean’ in the same way that fired porcelain allows. The angel’s right forearm is missing and the neck of the cello shows repair in three places below her hand. The piece of papka next to the angel is from a section of the leafy base adjacent to the bottom of the cello. Her feet are not visible in this photo but it is also possible, given the form and angle of her skirt, that she may be depicted in flight rather than standing; there are also no flowers in evidence but if this is a still-unfinished piece they may not have been applied yet. On the other hand, the base is pretty well filled with foliage and so it’s possible that the Cellist was not designed to have a floral decoration.This photo appeared in the October 1975 issue of Acquire magazine as part of an ad placed by the Cybis studio. Bob Burrows was the owners of the Burrows Gallerye in Englewood, NJ and was one of the studio’s retailers. I have no idea what “N.Y. Exhibit” the photo caption is referring to. It’s interesting that these are cited as being dated 1940, just as two of the angels pictured above were.
The only photo discovered so far of the Guitarist is the one that appeared in the 1941 magazine spread, so I have isolated and enlarged that section and removed the distracting background elements. Her unusual orientation almost looks as if she is flying backwards, causing her robe to flow out to the front or side (hard to tell from the angle shown.) Based on this photo, I think this is my favorite of the five styles; she looks as if she is really ‘rockin’ out’, doesn’t she? 😊 It would be fun to put her next to the saxophone…err, I mean French Horn… player for an angelic jam session!
The Cybis Angels post shows all of the other angels produced by the studio, including Maria Cybis sculpting a monumental one from papka in their very first studio which is where the Angelic Orchestra was made as well. Again, if anyone has the Lyricist and would like to share photos, she would be most welcome to “join the band” on this page.
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