Many of the drawings done by Boleslaw Cybis during the 1930s are noticeably different from those he produced in the previous decade. Most of them can be divided into three genres: portraits of Polish people in historical costumes, portraits of people in Libya, and landscapes done while in Italy.
Historical Polish Costumes
Some of these (perhaps most or all?) were reproduced as lithographs during the early 1970s, although they do not appear in any of the studio’s price lists or catalogs and so they may not have been offered for retail sale. See this post for an overview of the prints that have so far been found.
The original drawings below are interesting not only because of their historical context but because two of them are dated by the artist at both ends, so to speak, of the same decade. The drawing done in 1939 (the first year that Boleslaw Cybis lived in America) has much more detail than the one from 1930 which was drawn in a single color of crayon.
These photographs all appeared in the 2019 and 2010 auction lot listings from Kamelot Auctions in Philadelphia, PA.
The title of ‘Townswoman’ is derived from a handwritten notation on the back of the drawing: “Mieszczanka” – Polish historical dresses – city girl – 16 of” which suggests that this may be the sixteenth drawing in a series portraying medieval Polish citizens in various styles of clothing. It is sanguine (red) crayon on paper, measures 12” x 15” and is signed B Cybis 1930. It is not known who made the notes on the back. This was originally sold by Kamelot Auctions, Philadelphia, in March 2020 in an inexpensive frame that had water damage to the cardboard backing. The image above was taken by DESA Unicum for their auction listing in May 2021 with the damaged frame backing removed.
This peasant woman in a blue dress was described as mixed media on paper when offered in that same 2020 Kamelot sale, cited as an image size of 21” x 16”. Close inspection reveals a very faint B Cybis signature in pencil just to the right of the flagstone she is standing on. However, there is a big problem with the signature that is at the lower left corner of this item.
The upper signature is what appears at that lower left location. The lower signature is an actual Boleslaw Cybis signature. They are obviously not the same! The faux (not by Boleslaw Cybis) signature was clearly applied with a ballpoint pen. History tells us that although the ballpoint pen was invented in 1888, it was not patented until 1938 and was not available on the American market until 1945; they did not become really common until the late 1950s/early 1960s. So, not only is the signature on this drawing (or print?) not a match for Boleslaw Cybis’ handwriting, but it was applied by someone at the modern Cybis studio several decades after the drawing was created. This item was described by the auction house as “signed lower left” which is technically true…except that the lower left signature is not that of Boleslaw Cybis, although the (unmentioned) one within the image space is. The auctioneer also incorrectly described the subject as a “Dutch” peasant, when of course she is Polish.
I am calling this the gentleman in black and white coat. It was offered at auction by Kamelot in June 2019, described as mixed media on paper, and 21″ x 16″. The signature style is accurate.
With this mixed-media drawing we step into a bit of a quagmire because it is one that the modern studio (possibly during the early 1970s) reproduced as lithographs. When offered by Kamelot in June 2019, they titled it as “Elizabethan Royalty” which is ridiculous; Boleslaw Cybis never drew portraits of Britons of the Tudor period, which is what “Elizabethan” means. These are Polish costumes. Because it’s difficult to tell whether this is a man or woman, let’s just title this drawing ‘Polish aristocrat.’ Image size is 22.5” x 17” and it has a typical B Cybis signature in pencil over a rock in the lower right corner. (For comparison, the size of the reproduction image is only 15.5” x 12”.)
Here is another problem-signature item, sold by Kamelot in that same 2019 sale. Described by them as “Czarina” – and I’ll go into why that is inaccurate, in a moment – it has a faint B Cybis signature on the righthand side but also a fake Boleslaw Cybis signature in ballpoint pen at the lower left. Image size is 21” x 16”. A more appropriate title for this drawing would be Duchess or Queen Consort… “Duchess” being the most widely used in the time period portrayed.
This drawing, described by Kamelot in a June 2013 auction lot as oil and pastel on paper, is 23” x 18”. It was sold with a Cybis studio paper tag affixed to the back, titling it “Czar.” Clearly, this was an item that the studio had sold directly to someone, probably after 1990 when they began selling various legacy items to visitors. This work is signed in pencil B Cybis 1939 at the lower right corner. A far better title for this drawing would be Pana (a male of the nobility.)
Here is why “Czar” and “Czarina” should not be applied as titles to any of Boleslaw Cybis’ art: Those are Russian titles of royalty, and it was the Russians who invaded Poland in September 1939, in concert with Hitler’s German forces. Actual Polish aristocratic titles included Graf (earl, or count), Pan or Pana (lord), Chorągiewny (commander), kasztelan (castellan, owner of the castle), and szlachta or karmazyni (knights and general high nobility.) Boleslaw Cybis would have been highly offended at the use of the title of czar or czarina to describe any of his depictions any Polish personages. Nobility as a class distinction was abolished in 1921 with the establishment of the Polish Republic, but Cybis was drawing people who lived in a much earlier era.
The drawings of the peasant woman in blue dress, Duchess, Polish aristocrat, Gentleman in black and white robe, and two others shown in the next section (six in all) were all housed in inexpensive-looking silver-metal mass-market frames with cardboard backers, probably purchased by the studio during the late 1960s or early 1970s.
As mentioned in this Archive post, some of the original 1930s drawings were later reproduced as lithographs although the extent of their distribution was probably very small. If any of them were subsequently framed, they can be quickly distinguished from the originals by comparing the image area sizes: the originals are between 21” and 23” high and 16” to 18” wide, while the print image areas are approximately 16” high x 12” wide, i.e., about 25% smaller.
Unfortunately, I have no way of knowing whether this depiction of a girl in a flower crown hat is an original print or a 1970s lithograph, but just in case it is an original I am including it here. The flower crown/hat is reminiscent of the studio’s much later sculpture The Bride, which was based on a Cybis oil painting and has its own Archive post. No details were provided and the original photo was quite small; it required some zooming to see any detail. There appears to be something written in the lower left corner but it’s impossible to tell whether it is the same faux signature as on the Duchess and the Peasant Woman in Blue Dress.
The Libyan Drawings
Although the Cybis in Retrospect museum catalog timeline says that Cybis lived in Tripoli (Libya) in 1932, several of these original drawings done of the inhabitants are clearly dated 1930. This is not the first discrepancy noted in Cybis publications, and so we will defer to the year (1930) that Cybis himself put onto his work at the time! The exhibit catalog is clearly incorrect in this regard.
Unless otherwise noted, the photographs are from DESA Unicum (Warsaw) auction lot listings offered in 2020 and/or 2021.
Young black man’s head, 1930, charcoal on paper, approx. 10” x 8”. It is inscribed TRIPOLI at the lower right, which should settle the who/when/where question once and for all.
Young black girl’s head, 1930, charcoal on paper, 10” x 9”
Mosque, crayon on paper, 19” x 14” signed and dated lower right B. Cybis 1930
African woman with fish, mixed media on paper, 22” x 17” and described as unsigned. Not dated but likely 1930. Housed in an inexpensive frame typical of what the Cybis studio placed these in and was likely consigned by them to the auction house, or by whoever had bought this from the studio previously. Photograph from Kamelot Auctions lot listing, June 2019.
African woman with multiple necklaces, mixed media on paper, 22” x 17”, described as unsigned. Not dated but likely 1930. Note the full-length sketch over her shoulder; I used to know the correct term for this technique of having a small sketch as well as the main subject, but memory has utterly failed me and I can’t pull it out of the cobwebby attic of my brain! If a kind soul happens to know and will share, there’s a contact form below… The same framing comments apply as for the Woman with Fish. Photograph from Kamelot Auctions lot listing, June 2019.
Bust of black woman, charcoal on paper, approx. 11” x 7.5”, titled Popiersie Murzynki (“bust of black woman”) undated but clearly from Libyan period in 1930. This is more accurately a torso than just a bust.
Black woman with large earring, charcoal on paper, approx. 11.5” x 8”, titled Glowa Murzynki (“head of black woman”) undated but from Libyan period.
Head of black boy with cap, charcoal on paper, 11.5” x 8.5”, titled Glowa Murzynskiego Chlopca (“head of a black boy”)
Two black women, one with ornate necklace and earrings, the other in a plain headscarf; charcoal on paper, approx. 13” x 9”. Titled Dwie Murzynki (“two black women”).
Libyan man with fez, charcoal on paper, 11.5” x 7.5”, titled Glowa meczyzny w fezie (“man’s head in fez”.)
There was only one original piece of art from Boleslaw’s Libyan period in the 1970-71 Cybis in Retrospect museum exhibit in Trenton; all the rest were photographs. This was a pastel-and-conte sketch of three people, supposedly created as a preliminary study for an eventual painting. Given the name People of Libya, it was owned by the Cybis studio at that time but may have been sold in later decades. It was not pictured in the exhibit catalog.
The Italian Drawings
To date, these have been all landscapes and no portraits found, though that doesn’t mean there weren’t any. These photos all appeared in circa- 2020 DESA Unicum auction listings.
Italian landscape, 1930, charcoal on paper, 15” x 19”
Sicilian landscape, probably 1930, ink/paper, 15” x 19”
Stairs in Castel Molo, 1930, charcoal, mixed media on paper, 17.5” x 15”. Castelmolo is a village in the mountains of Sicily, roughly between Palermo and Messina. The road leading up to the old Saracen castle at the peak is comprised of more than 600 steps! I wonder how far up Boleslaw was when he stopped to sketch this?
Rocks at Capri, 1930, crayon on paper mounted on paperboard, 9” x 12”
Yellow coral, 1930, described as “oil, merla on paperboard”, 9.5” x 10”. I could not find any definition of “merla” as an art technique and so am clueless as to what that is.
Other 1930s Drawings
This pencil 5” x 7” pencil drawing has been titled In the Tub, estimated to date from 1935-37. Photo from DESA Unicum.
From the same estimated time period (1935-37) we have Starfish in charcoal on paper, 9” x 12”. Photo from DESA Unicum.
Woman with a sheer green scarf is done in crayon and pencil on paper. It measures 21” x 13”
Here are two unusual textile-art designs, both done in gouache and pencil on paper; photos from DESA Unicum.
Kilim rug design A is approx. 6” x 4”. Noted on the bottom zloty (“golden”.) On the reverse are several stickers which say Projekty kilimow z lat 1930-1935 (“Kilim Project from years 1930-1935”) referring to designing Kilim rugs/carpets.
Kilim rug design B is approx. 8.5” x 6.5” and has no cited notations on it.
The next overview of drawings by Boleslaw Cybis will focus on works from the 1940s.
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