The Cybis studio created two very different sets of lithographs (reproductions) of drawings originally done in 1939 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’s not known whether there were more and if so, how many. 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 items 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 nobleman 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 lefthand (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!)
So, what original drawings were these prints taken from? Although the examples below do not match any of the prints shown above, they are clearly from the same ‘series’.
This original oil-and-pastel drawing on paper is signed by Boleslaw Cybis and dated 1939; it measures 18″ wide x 23″ high overall, as shown; the slightly smaller image area is probably a close (if not exact) match for the size of one of the single images in the lithograph sheets.
The reverse side of the drawing bears a Cybis studio typewritten sticker giving the drawing the title Czar. This clearly indicates that it was sold directly by the studio to a purchaser, most likely during the 1990s when Cybis began offering such legacy items for sale in their newly opened on-site showroom. The drawing was sold at auction in June 2013 and was one of several lots of circa-1940s Cybis items including several plaster wall decorations from the original Trenton studio on Church Street.
Likewise, this oil-and-pastel drawing of a lady is clearly from the same era and the same size as well, although no information was provided about. Perhaps these two drawings were later reproduced as lithographs as well. Her hat and pose are reminiscent of The Bride (original painting and subsequent sculpture.)
Despite the subject(s), the odds are that Cybis created these Polish portraits after he came to America rather than while he was in Poland. Records show that he and his fellow artists arrived in the USA in mid-March 1939 and he never returned to Poland after that. As will be related in an upcoming post about Cybis’ paintings, during the months immediately preceding that sailing he was working on the specially commissioned murals for the New York World’s fair; so unless he did some serious multi-tasking, it’s probable that these Polish portraits were drawn from memory (or from sketches done earlier) when living here in the USA.
The final question is whether the “Polish Portraits” prints were ever offered for retail sale. Certainly none of the Cybis catalogs mention them, and while the museum exhibit catalog Cybis in Retrospect includes an entry for the Folio One drawings, no mention whatsoever is made of these. The seller of the two lithograph sheets claimed that they were from 1970 but there was no image or documentation supporting that date… but if accurate, it bolsters the theory that the studio ultimately decided not to produce them for retail sale. Another possibility is, given the dates of the museum exhibit (Nov. 21, 1970 through Jan. 3, 1971) these prints were offered for sale only at the museum itself. The artists in the actual porcelain studio would have had no involvement in these, because prior to late 1969 the office staff was not located on the working-studio premises.
It’s also possible (though less likely) that they 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 the “Polish Portraits” series, and Marylin Chorlton‘s death in 1977 probably ended any thoughts of resurrecting it.
Update, June 2020: A very reliable source has reported seeing, firsthand, several hundred sheets of these lithographs within a pile of trash after the Cybis building was 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 the lithographs and would like to share images of them for this post, there is a contact form at the link below.
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