Cybis 1970s Print Reproductions of 1930s Polish Historical Dress Drawings

The Cybis studio created two very different sets of lithographs (reproductions) of drawings originally done in the 1930s by Boleslaw Cybis. One set is the well known Folio One set of Native American portraits; that set is illustrated and documented in the studio’s catalogs published during the 1970s. The other set is far less known and of a different subject entirely.

Four of these lithographs have come to light but it appears that there were at least 12 in the series. All depict Polish people in their native dress; it’s not known if this series was given a name, or even whether these were ever actually released for retail sale. The four shown below were offered for sale online in 2015 and were purchased by a collector on the West Coast; what happened to them after the liquidation of his estate is not known.

What is odd is that the printing format of the two examples differs: One of them is one-sided but the other has art on the reverse side as well.

This single sheet, uncut from the printer, is 29″ wide x 23″ high and contains two images as shown. Each individual image is 15 5/8″ x 12″;  the paper stock is heavy and of a cream color which appears close (perhaps even the same) to that which was used for the Folio One series. The process used was offset lithography. The print sheet is single-sided.

The woman on the left appears to be either a peasant or a nurse, while the man is clearly a man of some rank. Each image includes the signature of Boleslaw Cybis within the reproduction, as it no doubt appeared on the original from which the print was made.

On the other hand, this second set is double-sided. The seller of this pair noted that the signature area of the left-hand (male) image includes the date 1939. The sheet dimension is identical to that of the first one shown, as are the image sizes, but…

..on the reverse side is also printed a two-color lithograph of a man who appears to be a woodcutter (because the object he carries in his right hand seems more like a tool than a weapon!)

The Copyrighted Series

Unlike the Folio One collection of Native American portraits, I have not yet found any Cybis literature offering these lithographs for normal retail sale. I have, however, found 12 copyright registration entries that show the studio having at least intended (on some scale) to do so. All of these entries are in the US Copyright Office database as having been filed in October 1972.

Comparing this list with the four images shown above, we can assign the name Peasant Woman with Baby to the first lithograph, but the other image on that sheet is trickier: Is he the Army Engineer, or the Merchant, or the Soldier? All are described as having a castle in the background. Here Google comes to our rescue with results for a Polish army uniforms search, pegging him as a 17th-century infantry officer:

So, that lithograph is the Soldier for sure.

What about the other two? The one with the tight hose and short cape is definitely the Wealthy Merchant but again we are flummoxed by the second of this pair. The remaining castle-in-background copyright descriptions leave us only the Army Engineer and Merchant to choose from. This character holds nothing that would suggest a technical background, and so that leaves us with the Merchant. But hold on…we have a gender identification problem here, because both men and women wore such hats and fur-collared robes. So, is this a man or a woman? It’s hard to tell from the facial features, and the position/location of the hands is something commonly seen in female portraits. But the only castle-in-background female on the copyright list has braids. Hmm.

I had the same problem identifying the original circa-1930s drawing from which this lithograph was derived, and ultimately punted by dubbing it simply as “Polish aristocrat” to distinguish him or her from the peasantry or military.

The original print, which was sold by a Pennsylvania auction house as a framed item in 2019, is of larger dimension but otherwise identical.

The Carpenter (with tools) is clearly the sepia-toned drawing that was printed on the reverse side of the Wealthy Merchant/Unidentified Person sheet. That leaves us with seven copyrighted lithographs to identify: “Army Engineer with castle in background”, “City Girl with long braids and castle in background”, a pair of Crossbowmen, a Horseman, a “Lady of Nobility”, a “Merchant with Castle in Background”, a “Noble Lady”, and a “Warrior wearing Fur-Trimmed Robe with Axe.” There are five known circa-1930s drawings by Boleslaw Cybis, which will appear in an upcoming Archive post, but only two of them (the “Lady of Nobility” and “Noble Lady”) are possible matches for those seven lithographs.

If anyone happens to own any Cybis drawings or lithographs that fit the description of a female with long braids and castle in background, a horseman, a Warrior in a fur-trimmed robe with axe, or a pair of crossbowmen, I would love to be able to add photos of those to the Archive; there is a contact link below.

Distribution or Sale

It’s my belief that the studio intended to release these as a collection of 12 lithographs after they completed the sale of the 1971 Folio One collection, but then decided against it. Perhaps the Folio One series did not sell as well as they had hoped. However, the studio had already gone ahead with the printing of at least some of what I will now call the Polish Historical Dress Lithographs, because those uncut sheets have been found.

The final question is whether these lithographic prints were ever offered for retail sale. The copyright date of October 1972 would explain why they are not included in 1970-71 museum exhibit catalog Cybis in Retrospect, although it is possible that – if these were only available at the exhibit itself – the studio may have copyrighted them after the fact rather than before. There is no mention of them in the 1978/79 Cybis catalog Appendix, which indicates that they were not offered for general retail sale before that date, and they do not appear in any of the 1970s price lists that I have. They do not appear on any price lists from 1980-1983 either, nor in the 1988 one that I also have.

It’s also possible that these prints were offered only through certain Cybis retailers. If they were gallery exclusives, that would also account for these being omitted from all of the 1970s and 1980s Cybis catalogs. It’s also highly unlikely that Cybis would have released two series of lithographs during the same year; the Folio One appeared in 1970, as a limited-edition series of 1000. Logic suggests that the studio would have waited to see how well (or poorly) that series was received by collectors. If the Folio’s performance ended up being disappointing, it would make sense to shelve this print series, and Marylin Chorlton’s death in 1977 probably ended any thoughts of resurrecting it.

In June 2020, a very reliable source reported seeing several hundred sheets of these lithographs within a pile of trash when the Cybis building was in the process of being sold. None were in salvageable condition, being heavily water damaged from rain and general dirt and filth as well as crumpling. Obviously, the studio had contracted for many lithographs to be printed but only sold (or gave away) some of them, and stored the leftovers in their warehouse. My source did not take photos of the trashed lithographs and so I do not know if they were the same as or different from the ones illustrated in the first half of this post, nor how many designs there were.

If anyone has additional examples of these lithographs and would like to share images of them for this post, there is a contact form at the link below. In the meanwhile, if any lithographs or matching original drawings do turn up on the internet, they will be added here.

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