The liquidation of the Cybis studio’s backstock in 2019 brought to light a collection of female (lady head) busts made during the 1940s. These fell into two general categories: (a) papka and/or mixed media prototypes or one of a kind designs, and (b) busts that were cast from a basic head/neck mold and then variously decorated. The nine busts shown below belong to the second group.
Because the heads (and hands, when used) are identical, it means that these were cast from a mold into which a liquid was poured. This is different from what is usually thought of as “papka” which resembles a thick modeling clay that is shaped by hand. The Medieval Horse is a good example of a papka figure:
It’s clear that no part of this piece came from a poured-and-fired mold. The lady busts shown here, however, do have two or more mold-cast elements. All except one are approximately the same height, which is between 11 and 12 inches.
This blue lady bust with a pearl necklace is a good place to start. The head mold has an elongated neck and is tilted slightly toward her right. Distinguishing facial features are heavy-lidded eyes and a full-rosebud shaped mouth. The base mold incorporates a ‘collar’ that also hides the attachment point of neck to base. Although it may appear as though the necklace is recessed into the neck portion, close examination of the photos show that they sit atop it; the shadows between the ‘pearls’ are provided by darker paint. This bust received a blue paint wash and no glaze. All of the applied decorations are either papka or a papka/porcelain blend that was easily molded into various shapes by hand.
Here’s a glazed and slightly more frou-frou version of the same bust, titled (and misspelled) Geneiveve on her base. Without the necklace to visually break it, the long ‘swan’ neck is very noticeable. This iteration has a definite ‘Cordey style bust’ look which the glazed finish reinforces. The collar section of the base is higher and shaped in a more feminine manner.
This back-view comparison really highlights how similar these two busts are in construction despite their “finishing” differences.
The next examples have two new molded elements added: hands and hair! They are all porcelain, no papka.
This wavy-haired sepia lady bust is the simplest of this version, with hands plus long hair waves added. Notice that the applied “back” hair is gone, replaced by a simple pigtails-type part and no curls or flowers, and that the waves have been cast from a mold rather than made freehand. Even the collar is minimalist and there are relatively few flowers. The flowers and leaves have moved away from the early modeling-clay look and have been formed from porcelain. Although fairly plain, this bust does not look rustic or primitive. (It is, however, shockingy dirty as were many of the pieces in the liquidation sale.) The paint color may well be the earliest example of what the 1950s studio would call their ‘Cypia’ tonation.
A variation on the minimalist theme is this highly glazed white bust with long braids. I suspect that the normal detail of the head mold was deliberately smoothed out in order to highly the contrast of the featureless face and hands with the intricacy of the hand-formed braided hair. The oversized, yet plain, flowers are about midway between those two extremes.
The Astrid bust is a hybrid between the first two busts shown (Blue Lady and Geneiveve) and the ‘long hair/hands’ version. She has the long side waves but also some curls at the name of her neck, as well as a pearl necklace a la “Blue” and her hands have acquired ruffled sleeves. The workmanship of the flowers and leaves is definitely porcelain.
This comparison clearly shows that the long hair waves were cast from a mold; they are identical.
By the way, the practice of applying a name directly to the sculpture (as in Geneveive, Astrid, and the porcelain version of the angel bust Celestine) is something I have only encountered in these few circa-1940s busts. It was definitely not part of the studio’s “standard operating procedure” at any time after this!
This adaptation into an African Madonna and Child is almost certainly one of a kind. In this case her hair waves are hand formed and not cast from the molds. The hands are repositioned so as to support the baby. This piece is extremely reminiscent of the Libyan paintings that Boleslaw Cybis did when he and his wife lived in Africa in 1931 and 1932. The dark brown and black paint and glaze highlights the facial features of both; I have not seen the baby mold anywhere else, to date. The halo is ‘new’ also and doesn’t match any of the others that the studio used. The Cybis signature, copyright symbol, and A.P. designation were all added by the studio in later decades and were not applied at the time of this piece’s creation. Because of the halo and wood base (possibly attached), this piece is probably at least 13” high.
Stepping back to the more conventional designs of this bust, this bust with short curls and roses is probably one of the later ones produced. The cluster of curls at her ears give her an almost ‘Princess Leia’ look! The large roses decorating the base and, especially, the two-tone anemone flowers in her hair point to a late-1940s/early 1950s level of workmanship. This is a quite sophisticated lady bust indeed.
A similar design but this time with long hand-formed curls and only one hand – in a different position – instead of two. This is another piece that is in dire need of cleanup.
The next two busts were cast from the same head mold but with an alteration. In the chronology of these busts they are probably on the earlier end of the spectrum.
My guess is that this long-haired green lady bust was made at essentially the same time as the blue lady bust with pearl necklace. The difference here is that the head mold is tilted in the other direction, i.e., toward her left instead of her right. The hands follow suit, being placed on the other side so that in both cases her head is tilted toward her hands. The painting style is the same in both instances; only the color is different. It uses the same long-curls mold but one of them is positioned slightly more to the front on this sculpture.
All of the decorations on this dark brown sepia tone lady bust are hand formed; only the bust/neck and base are cast pieces. Here the decoration material appears to be papka or very close to it.
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