Although the primary focus of this site is Cybis porcelain sculptures, no history of the studio would be complete without also examining Boleslaw Cybis’ work in other mediums as well. This post takes a look at some of his paintings which were created in Poland and the USA and is part of a series showing examples of his original art.
In 1970-71 the New Jersey State Museum mounted an exhibition, Cybis in Retrospect, which included 38 examples of Mr. Cybis’ drawings and paintings. However, only six of them were the actual pieces of original art; the other are described in the exhibit catalog (of the same name) as being “photographic enlargements”, quite a few of which were only of detail sections of complete murals which were not shown in their entirety. This post includes more than a dozen pieces of art that were not in the 1971 exhibit at all. The paintings are arranged below in rough chronological order by decade.
Drawing and sketches by Boleslaw Cybis are (or will be) shown in separate posts from his paintings. See the Cybis original art category to browse these.
All of these were painted while Boleslaw Cybis was in Europe. In 1921 he was living in Constantinople with fellow artists Constantin Alajalov and Pavel Tchelitchev, who he had met several years earlier while a volunteer soldier with the Ukranian Army during the Russian Revolution. When their cause collapsed they fled to Turkey. The museum catalog describes Cybis’ time there:
[Cybis] ekes out a living of bread, olives and goats milk in exchange for sketching portraits in cafes, painting sidewalk advertisements..[and] murals in nightclubs; painting and designing stage backdrops for ballets [and] fashioning clay pipes. One of his first ‘paid jobs’ is a gigantic billboard advertising Nestle’s chocolate.
Upon his return to Poland in 1923 he enrolled in the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts and upon graduation in 1925 joined a group of Warsaw artists living in the village of Kazimiercz at the villa/studio of Baron Stefan deRopp. They called themselves “The Brotherhood of Saint Luke.” In 1926 he married fellow artist Marja Tym.
This photo, taken in 1928, shows the group; the caption identifies them by name “from left” and puts Cybis in the sixth position but a comparison with the photo below of Cybis as a young man appears to instead resemble the man sitting on the chair at left, between two men wearing hats. According to the caption, the artists are Eliasz Kanarek, Aleksander Jedrzejewski, Antoni Michalak, Jan Wydra, Edward Kokoszko, Boleslaw Cybis, Tadeusz Pruszkowski, Jan Zamoyski, Jan Gotard, and Czeslaw Wdowiszewski.
This oil painting, entitled Widok Kazimierza (View of Kazimiercz) is attributed to Cybis during his time there in the 1930s.
The works below are listed in order of their attributed creation year, where known.
According to the museum catalog, Peasant Heads was painted circa 1920. It is an oil painting on canvas, 15″ wide and 14″ h. During the 1970s it was in the collection of the Dayton Art Institute in Ohio who lent it to the 1971 exhibit. This painting, as well as The Bride shown below, was subsequently consigned to the Parke-Bernet Eighty-Four Gallery (division of Sotheby’s) in New York and sold as a combined lot. The winning bidder was the Cybis studio, and this painting was initially hung in Joseph Chorlton’s office. What happened to it after the mid-1980s is unknown.
Susanna in Bath (Zuzanna w kapieli) painted circa 1925, is approximately 45″ wide x 40″ high; this was not in the museum show. It was apparently last sold at a 2009 auction in Bremen, Germany; hammer price is unknown.
Two photos that were in the 1971 exhibit were cited as being works from 1926. Stefa is described in the catalog as an oil on canvas, the original being in the Polish State Collection of Fine Arts.
The other is listed simply as Child, an oil on canvas “featuring a baby girl seated.” No ownership of the original was given in the museum catalog. However, the 1971 US Copyright Office publication contains this entry: Child (Solemn toddler with pearl necklace & fancy tucked blouse; 1926 painting signed B. Cybis) Photo. Appl. ti.: Baby girl seated @ Cybis; 5 Feb 71; JU12761. “Appl. ti.” stands for “application title” and so the actual name of the painting (if any) could be either.
The original oil painting Portrait of a Young Lady was cited as dating from 1926 and resides in the Polish State Collection of Fine Arts; this photographic reproduction (also issued as this press photo by the studio in 1970) of it was included in the 1970-71 show.
This Man in Pointed Hat was cited as being circa 1926-1928 but no further information given; clearly an oil painting. Most of Cybis’ peasant portraits were done in this mid to late 1920s era. This painting was not included in the show.
The actual title of this oil portrait of a blonde woman in a striped blouse is not known but it appears to be from the same mid-1920s period.
Toilette (Toaletta) is an oil on canvas from 1928. Because this was only represented in the show as a photo enlargement, we do not know the actual size. (Collection: District Museum of Bydgoszcz, Poland)
This portrait of an Asian woman holding a cigarette has been given at least three supposed titles, so it’s likely that no name appears on the painting itself. It’s been dubbed variously Lady with Cigarette, Chinese Woman, and Chinka. Oil on board, measuring about 22″ wide and 30″ high, circa 1928. It was not in the New Jersey show.
Although this Asian Man Seated at Table had absolutely no specifics sited, it appears similar enough to the foregoing woman that it’s likely to be from the same period.
Woman’s Head Study was cited as being circa 1929 but no other specifications were given. It appears to also be an oil on canvas. This was not in the New Jersey exhibit. Many of these were cited online with their names in Polish (e.g., Studium glowy kobiety in this case, which translates to “study of woman’s head”) but it’s not known whether these were derived from names actually written on the canvas itself; they could simply be good guesses. I’d have thought “woman in red scarf” would have been more descriptive of this one.
In October of 1933 the Brooklyn Museum hosted an exhibit of Polish art, among which was Cybis’ oil painting The Bride (the later porcelain sculpture based on this painting has its own Archive post.) The exhibit subsequently traveled to Chicago and finally to the Dayton Art Institute who acquired the original and lent it for the 1970-71 New Jersey exhibit. It was probably painted in 1929 or early 1930.
In 1980 the Dayton Art Institute decided to excess some of its holdings and consigned this painting, along with Peasant Heads, to Sotheby’s 84 Gallery in New York City where they were offered as a single lot (#112) in their April 10, 1980 auction. The Cybis studio was not aware of the auction until 24 hours before the sale began, upon which they decided to try to acquire the lot. There was a scramble for funding but the studio emerged as the winning bidder. Both paintings were subsequently examined under blacklight, which disclosed that there were several layers of revisions beneath the final product.
The painting was then displayed on a easel in the studio’s showroom area for the next several years. This 1980 press photo shows Joe Chorlton with both paintings, plus the recently-released porcelain The Bride. However, when I visited the studio in late 1992 neither painting was on display. One or both may still be in the possession of Theresa Chorlton, or may have since been sold. I hope to one day find a color photograph of it, not least to see whether the porcelain representation of it follows the colors of the original.
Nativity at Lowicz is an oil and tempera on plywood, dated July 1930. It is 39″ high x 30″ wide and appears to have been a companion or follow-up painting to The Bride. See this Archive post for additional information about the painting and the eventual 1980s Cybis porcelain sculpture that was based on it. These are the only two Cybis paintings known to have been translated directly into porcelain sculptures by the post-1960 studio.
Cybis art from the 1930s is much better documented but can be roughly divided into the work he did while in Poland versus his later work in America (1939 and after.) In 1930, Boleslaw and Marja lived in Libya where he painted a number of portraits of the inhabitants. All of the paintings below were done during that time.
No dimensions were given for this portrait of a Libyan Woman and Child with Cactus which is an oil on canvas. This painting was not in the NJ show.
Libyan Wall and Archway is likewise an oil painting; it was not in the show, and so some of these names are conjectural.
The Polish description of this painting’s title translates to Street in Tripoli. It was described as being “mixed media” which corresponds to a mention in the show catalog that during this stint Cybis “paint[ed] experimentally with cement.”
This painting was represented in the show only via a photograph. Given the title Libyan Women in Window, it is cited as being “mixed media (oil and cement) composition on board” (board in this case being plywood.) The window in the title apparently refers to the defined rectangular section of the painting, through which the women in the street are being viewed. The painting is 28″ high and 23″ high. One art site gives this painting the title “Meeting” (Spotkanie) instead of how the Cybis exhibit catalog names it, and also that the original is on permanent display at the Warsaw Art Museum. For some reason the museum catalog failed to cite this but perhaps the museum did not own it at that time. There is just as much logic to the title “Meeting” as to “Libyan Women in Window”, so I shall leave the actual name up to personal preference!
There was only one original piece from the Libyan period in the show: a pastel-and-conte sketch of three people, created in 1932 as a preliminary study for an eventual painting. Given the name People of Libya, it was owned by the Cybis studio at the time but may have been sold in later decades. It was not pictured in the print catalog.
By 1933 the Cybises were back in Poland and one of Boleslaw’s first commissions there appears to have been for the three ships launched by the Polish Merchant Marine. An article in the May 28, 1933 issue of the New York Times, titled ‘New Polish Liner Greeted in Harbor’, reports that
The new motor-liner Batory, the second addition to Poland’s merchant marine…a trim, 514-foot liner, smart in line and efficient in every detail”…was built at the Monfalcone shipyard in Italy, along with her sister ship the Pilsudski….On the promenade deck is a large American bar decorated with plaster relief work covered in silver, done by Boleslaw Cybis.
The other two Polish ships for which Cybis did paintings and decorations were the Chrobry and the Pilsudzki.
Another major project, begun in 1934, was a collaborative one for the Military Institute in Warsaw: a set of four historical frescoes depicting the national hero, Boleslaw the Brave. These would foreshadow a similar work that Cybis would do several years later, but they are not duplicates. This first series of fresco panels can be viewed on the Art Now and Then blog, along with details about their construction.
An interesting aside is that Cybis and his fellow artist Jan Zamoyski literally painted themselves into one panel via self-portraits, as well as with their signatures. Cybis’ self portrait is the one on the right. The project was completed in 1937. It’s not known whether the 1971 exhibit’s photo enlargement of Tracing the West Polish Frontier on the Oder River, which was cited as being in the Military Institute’s collection, was part of the four panels mentioned above.
Primavera, an oil and tempera from 1936, measures about 34″ wide x 51″ high.
The actual name of this work is hard to determine; a Polish source captioned it as “panneau dekoracyjne” which translates into “decorative sign” although it appears to portray an angel and two infants amidst a surrealistic river of sorts. It was cited as being from 1937 but I have my doubts about this, because it seems to resemble several late 1940s paintings in overall style (see next section.) Perhaps the 1937 was a typo for 1947?
The museum exhibit also included this photo of a detail section of a circa-1938 painting described as a “mythological scene…..al fresco mural depicting wild horses and trumpeters.” The style is similar to that used in the Military Institute frescoes.
In early 1939 Cybis and his fellow artists arrived in New York along with the series of seven commissioned murals for the upcoming World’s Fair. The March 12th issue of the NY Times reported that
A group of eleven Polish artists and architects arrived yesterday on the Glynia-American liner Batory to complete the decoration of the interior of the Polish Pavilion at the Fair. The group, which included Boleslaw Cybis, mural painter, will work under W.T. Benda who is in charge of the artwork. Jerzy Skolimowski, architect, preceded the group to this country.
The murals were installed in the Polish Pavilion’s “Hall of Honor”. The panels had been created by the group of ‘Brotherhood of Saint Luke’ artists in Kazimercz during the previous several months; in size they were approximately 40″ x 80″ (roughly 3.5′ x 6′) and would have the final finishing touches applied by the artists on site at the Pavilion. There were 10 artists in all: Boleslaw Cybis, Bernard Frydrysiak, Jan Gotard, Aleksander Jedrzejewski, Eliasz Kanarek, Jeremi Kubicki, Antoni Michalak, Stefan Pluzanski, Janusz Podoski and Jan Zamoyski. Each mural depicted a seminal event in Polish history between the year 1000 (Boleslaw the Brave Greeting Otto) and 1791 (The May 3rd Constitution.) After the Fair closed, the painting became the property of the Pavilion’s patron, Stefan deRopp, who became a professor at LeMoyne College in Syracuse, NY. The paintings, along with a set of tapestries which were also on display in the Polish Pavilion, became the property of the college in 1958 and have been on display there ever since.
All of Boleslaw Cybis’ art from 1939 onward was created in the United States. The Folio One series of conte drawings, for example, was a product of the Cybis’ trip to the American West and Southwest during that year. In fact, that trip was why the Cybises remained in the USA rather than returning to Poland! They had tickets on a ship bound for Poland, sailing from the East coast, but due to Cybis’ failure to return on time they missed the boat (literally) and had to obtain passage on another ship sailing some weeks later. It was while they were on that voyage, not far from port, that war was declared and the ship had to return to New York. If Boleslaw and Marja Cybis had returned to NY in time for their intended sailing, they would have arrived in Poland and in all likelihood never have been able to return to the USA. It was only due to his “habitual lateness” (as was described to me) that the Cybis studio in America came into existence! (I received this account from several different sources, all of whom were directly connected with Boleslaw Cybis and either knew him personally or are the offspring of someone who did, and am confident the story is genuine and not apocryphal.)
As related in the Boleslaw’s Restaurant post, shortly after the Cybises were stranded (so to speak) in America in late 1939 he created decorations for at least one – possibly more – restaurants or nightclubs in Manhattan, similar to the work he had done on the Polish ships. Cybis in Retrospect mentions several of these, including a set of five full-scale (3′ to 4′ wide x 7′ long) sketches for “al fresco murals designed for [a] New York Social Club [sic]”. Although these are listed in the 1971 exhibit catalog, it is the only such entry that is not preceded by an asterisk denoting that the item was actually in (or represented in) the show. Perhaps that was a printer’s omission. No source/ownership was given for the sketches, however.
The other two “nightspot” items were exhibited as photo reproductions of two murals painted for the Polonaise Club circa 1939. A Google search does produce a dead link for a vintage 1940s postcard for a “Polonaise Restaurant” and it sounds as if this may be the same one. Whether it refers to the restaurant in which Boleslaw was a partner is unknown, but it is possible. The names given to the two murals in the 1971 exhibit were Cossack and Hounds and Maiden and Hussars. Perhaps someday I will find one of the postcards which might show the Polonaise restaurant’s interior!
Additional photographic enlargements in the show were detail shots of various sections of a circa-1940 al fresco mural (not known for whom painted) entitled Seasons. The detail photos were captioned as ‘Garland Weavers’, ‘Musical Maidens’ (two views of these), ‘Shield with Eagle’ (was this reproduced later as a Cybis porcelain logo?), ‘Wreath’, ‘Harvest’, and ‘Baby.’
An intriguing entry dated “circa 1940” must have been the result of the Cybises’ 1939 trip to the American West. Both were represented by photographs: Indians Hunting Buffalo was an oil impasto (thickly layered paint so as to give a dimensional effect) on boards, and Indian Hunters and Wild Stallions was described as having been a “panorama featuring a Wild West motif.”
Another original in the show was Portrait of ‘Pinky’ cited as a “preliminary sketch in oil on gray stock for proposed portrait.” No source/owner was mentioned. Who was “Pinky”, one wonders??
This interesting item first appeared in a Polish auction house (DESA Unicum) in March 2014. It was escribed there with the Polish title Czas (Time) and a “self technique on board, measuring almost 19.75″ high and 13.5” wide. What’s really interesting is the notations on the back of the framing paper:
Location: Hall Promenade Deck
For one of the following:
S.S. President Monroe MC Hull No. 54
S.S. President Hayes ” 55
S.S. President Garfield ” 56
S.S. President Adams ” 57
S.S. President Van Buren ” 58
Design of the [illegible but looks like ‘spandrels’?] to correspond to the general theme
The auction house described this as a description of provenance but I disagree: A bit of Googling reveals that these were five of the seven attack transport ships commissioned by the US Government in 1940. A Federal art project was launched by the Maritime Commission and competitions were held for artists to submit designs for paintings to decorate the walls of various areas on the ships, such as the Promenade Deck lounges. It was reported that
four hundred and sixty-two artists submitted one thousand four hundred and sixty-two designs of better than average merit. This was the first anonymous, national competition for decoration of American ships, hence stimulating a great deal of interest among eager, untried painters, also serving to introduce many fine artists to the layman.
The typical payment to a winning artist was less than $1500. After the war, these ships were converted to international and cargo service. Because they were owned by the same company (APL, American Presidents Line) its likely that artworks were rotated between vessels over time. The numerical column in the list refers to the Maritime Commission hull number given to each ship: The President Monroe was MC hull #54, the President Hayes was MC hull #55, and so on; it does not refer to the years that the painting was on the ship as so-called “onboard art.” These notes are not a list of provenance but instead probably part of the submission by Boleslaw Cybis to the competition. Whether the painting was one of the winners is not known. Four of the ships were scrapped between 1973 and 1976; the S.S. President Van Buren did not survive a torpedo attack in 1942.
Getting back to the painting itself, it had formerly been in the private collection of a New York owner and from thence to an auction sale at the Lipert Gallery, probably in the 1990s. It did not sell in the 2014 auction, possibly because of a bid floor of 12,000 PLN (Polish zloty; about $3400 USD), and reappeared at DESA again in May 2016 with a bid floor of half that amount. It sold for 9000 PLN which at that exchange rate was about $2135 USD.
This last painting does not have any date estimate, although my hunch is that it belongs with the 1920s or early 1930s group. Titled in Polish Martwa natura z kluczem (Still life with fan and key) it is oil on canvas and measures about 28″ x 24″.
This retrospective of paintings by Boleslaw Cybis continues in Part Two.
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