Most Cybis collectors are familiar with the piece colloquially known as The Polish Bride, which was based on a 1937 oil painting by Boleslaw Cybis, but until recently I was unaware that the studio produced a second sculpture based on a different – but strikingly similar – painting. Unlike The Bride, whose origins and production history are well documented, the circumstances surrounding the second sculpture have been more difficult to ferret out.
The Original Painting
The inspiration for the porcelain piece was this Boleslaw Cybis oil on plywood, about 39″ high and 30″ wide. It was among the collection of Andrey Avinoff, former director of the Carnegie Museum in New York; Mr. Avinoff died in 1949 and it’s not known when he acquired the painting. His heirs did not lend the original to the 1971 Cybis in Retrospect museum exhibit, so a photograph had to suffice. In December 2020 the original came up for auction at a European auction house that had previously offered many original Cybis paintings and drawings during that year, most of which came from either the Warsaw Museum or members of Cybis’ family who remained in Poland. The Avinoff collection was cited as the source of this painting, however.
The exhibit catalog titled this painting as ‘Nativity at Lowicz’ which seems odd in view of the fact that “nativity” is generally interpreted as being connected with the Christmas holiday. I believe that name might have been a misunderstanding of the original title of the painting which was, of course, in Polish.
The Polish word for birth is narodziny. Therefore, if the painting was titled (either on the reverse or in Mr. Avinoff’s collection records) as Narodziny w Lowicz, it would be an easy mistake for someone unfamiliar with the language to translate that as “Nativity at Lowicz” simply by the visual similarity of the words and the general subject. In my opinion, a more accurate English title for the painting would have been Birth at Lowicz.
Although The Bride painting is undated, the Lowicz one is signed B. Cybis and also dated July 1930. This makes it likely that The Bride was painted first, e.g., in 1929 or the early 1930s.
A spate of research into Polish bridal customs revealed that in traditional culture, unmarried girls wore crowns or circlets of flowers. Often made of a combination of flowers, leaves, and herbs, these were called a “maiden’s wreath.” Her wedding day was the last time a girl or woman would ever wear one. The fact that it is included in this painting and sculpture therefore indicates that the mother is a maiden (virgin) and thus seems to suggest that she is the Virgin Mary — for which a title of “Nativity” would be appropriate. However, I have to say that I’m hugely surprised that a devout Catholic like Boleslaw Cybis would have painted the Virgin Mary as topless!
The other question is, why “at Lowicz” if the painting is indeed a representation of the Christian nativity? Are the three women attendants supposed to be angels? There is a helmeted man in the background at left, and a person of indeterminate sex also. Brushing aside any notion that Boleslaw was suggesting that Jesus was actually born in Poland instead of in the Middle East, perhaps the title means that he painted it while at Lowicz (a town in central Poland)? If we take the picture literally, it is showing an unmarried (or virgin/maiden) woman with her baby. I will leave it up to the observer to decide whether the original painting was meant to represent a version of the traditional Christian nativity scene or not!
The Cybis Sculpture
The one thing we know for sure about the porcelain versions is that The (Polish) Bride definitely came first: As explained in detail in her own Archive post, she was introduced at retail in Spring 1980 as an edition of 100 which was either completed or closed in 1982. She appears on Cybis retail price lists during that time.
This second sculpture does not appear on any price list that I currently have but. unfortunately. I have none from 1983, 1984 or 1985. However, she is not illustrated, or even mentioned, in the final Cybis catalog which appeared in 1986; this makes it more likely that she was offered either late that year or in a subsequent year.
I have come across only three examples of this piece, although I know of the existence of a fourth. The first two shown below came out of the Cybis studio’s holdings during their final liquidations; both are signed but neither are numbered. The third was purchased at a retailer. They have some differences and so I am showing multiple views of all.
This sculpture is 15.5” tall. Because I don’t know what the official name was, I am calling it the Lowicz Mother and Baby, although Birth at Lowicz could also apply. To name it after the original painting would make it sound too much like a religious piece, which it obviously is not.
Obviously this Cybis sculpture was, like The Bride, adapted from the painting’s ‘group’ scene to a study of only the mother and child. The direction of the mother’s gaze has been changed from a point in the distance to downward at her child. The baby likewise is no longer looking at the viewer but up to his mother’s face instead.
(For comparison, this is how the baby is shown in the original painting.)
The dipped lace along the edges of the blanket is reminiscent of the workmanship seen on the 1940s Cordey figures and busts. The back-view photo shows an area of dark orange discoloration of the glue that originally attached the lace to the edge of the blanket. There appear to be several other areas of lace where such oxidation has occurred, albeit to a lesser extent.
The ‘spikes’ in the headdress are meant to depict the stalks of wheat shown in the painting; this is one instance where art would have been far better served by utilizing a cast-and-painted-metal element instead, if there was nobody in the studio with the skill to fashion them by hand in porcelain. Almost all of the flowers were cast from a mold; the wheat stalks certainly are, and as a result are so solid that they could easily be mistaken for an attempt at feathers. The painting shows at least nine stalks; the Cybis piece has six, and the tip of one is broken off. There are some other condition ‘issues’ on this piece as well.
This is the headdress on The Bride, for comparison. There are molded elements here too, especially the berries, but there are quite a few handmade flowers and the overall quality of workmanship is much higher. The yellow-centered white flowers are created from pieces of dipped lace. The painting is better here also.
This example is signed Cybis U.S.A. on the bottom corner of the mother’s skirt.
The second example of the Lowicz Mother and Baby has some subtle differences.
The most noticeable difference is in her headdress, which is definitely wider. There are five wheat stalks, four of which are vertical and the fifth almost so. The almost-perfectly-vertical orientation is at odds with the way they are shown in the painting and make them look even more like spikes.
The mother’s neck is not bent downward as far as it is in the first example. This difference can be seen in both the side and rear-view photos.
The floral headdress on this example is constructed differently, as if on a plate or platform, which accounts for its wider appearance. There are a few handmade roses here that are lacking on the first example. That one also has a small detail painting on the right side of her hair that was omitted from this sculpture (which in my opinion is an improvement.) The wheat stalks have been cast from a different mold and do not look like feathers here.
The headdress as shown in the original painting.
The signature on this piece is found in a different place: The underside of the seat.
Many thanks to the eBay seller who brought this design to my attention and supplied the photos above. The second example was subsequently donated to the Museum of American Porcelain Art in Ohio. Several unfinished (plain white bisque-fired) and non-assembled pieces also existed among the studios holdings at the time of their final liquidation.
This third example came to my attention in 2022, when an Archive reader contacted me to ask about both pieces (The Bride and this one) inherited from his parent who had purchased them at a retailer. I was able to connect him with the MAPA museum, to which he donated both sculptures. This example was clearly made as a companion piece or match to The Bride because of the way the mother’s skirt is painted.
Another difference is that her hair is brown, rather than blonde as in the two other examples.
Notice that here the mother is holding a spear of wheat in her left hand. This is missing from the other two, which makes me wonder whether those were not quite 100% finished. (Although the reason for holding the wheat eludes me.)
These excellent views of the face and crown show that of these three examples, this is definitely the best as far as workmanship. I would rate Example A as second best, and Example B as a distant third.
These photos show the two sculptures together, at the Museum of American Porcelain Art. One surprise was that Example C does not have a number, but is marked AP (as is The Bride from the same source.) However, as this Archive post explains, there are several possible explanations for a marking of that kind. I would like to someday learn of a Lowicz that does have a sculpture number, which would provide a clue as to what the edition size may have been.
I do not have photos of a fourth known example. Several years ago, during a brief email correspondence, a collector made a passing reference to having, in storage, “one of the pieces that was based on the other Cybis painting”, meaning a painting other than The Bride. It was one of those things that caught my eye but I somehow failed to follow up on immediately and subsequently forgot. After learning of examples A and B, however, I located the email and reached out to the writer, explaining that I am trying to find information about whether this was an actual retail issue and when it took place. Unfortunately, I never received a reply.
A bit of trivia is that this is only the fourth known Cybis retail design that ever depicted a female with her upper body uncovered. The other three are Lady Godiva, Leda and the Swan, and Dream of Venus. There were also two others (a Nude with Plinth and a Goddess with Twin Children) that were never released but can be seen in the Classical Impressions post.
If anyone else happens to have one of these sculptures and can furnish any information as to when it was made, acquired, advertised, or what its official Cybis name and edition size was, I would be very grateful! There is a contact-form link below.
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