A Rare Catch: a Cybis Porcelain Fish

In 2016, when I wrote my ‘All at Sea’ post describing the various ocean-related Cybis porcelains, I ended it with this sentence:

Regarding other denizens of the deep, Cybis never chose to portray (as did Boehm, several times) any fish as the piece’s main subject — which does seem like rather a missed opportunity!

Well, it seems that the adage “never say never” rings true after all…because it turns out that a fish sculpture did indeed swim out of the Cybis studio! It dates from the 1940s which was when we also see some examples of Cybis pieces that exhibit Cordey design and decoration characteristics. Let’s look at our newfound finny friend!

Let me begin with a huge thank-you to Mary Garcia, who found this sweet little swimmer in a local thrift store in Florida. It is just barely shy of 6.5” tall to the very top of the rear seaweed strand, and just a skootch over 4” at the widest part of the base section.

These photos show that the fish is attached to/supported by two wide ribbon-like lengths of porcelain ‘seaweed.’

The scale detail is crisp and realistic. The painting on the fins is an ombre style, being darkest purple on the outer edge and then shading inward as it incorporates more of the grayish blue that is used on the body. Even though only two paint colors were utilized, the technique makes it appear more complex.

The fish mold itself does not portray any particular type of fish, but is an artistic interpretation. Although one might think purple to be an odd choice for a fish sculpture, there are actually a fair number of them, such as bettas (a/k/a Siamese fighting fish) and Moscow guppies for freshwater, and quite a few saltwater fish as well.

It’s not known whether the entire piece was designed by the Cybis studio or whether this was a similar situation as their first nativity series in which the various figure molds came from a mold company but only some of the decorative elements originated with Cybis. If this piece is a similar ‘hybrid’, it would be the fish mold that was obtained elsewhere (such as, for example, from the Holland Mold or Atlantic Mold companies.) Most decorative examples in this position (with tail raised above back) are dolphins, not fish. Also, many ‘fish’ items from the 1940s and 1950s tend to be rather cartoonish and kitschy, especially the big-mouth styles which were popular imports from Asia.

Believe it or not, there actually is a purple seaweed! Purple dulse (Palmaria palmata) grows in wide ribbons just like the Cybis piece displays. Nicknamed ‘the bacon of the sea’, it is found growing on rocks in the North Atlantic and Northwest Pacific oceans, in color ranging from dark red to dark purple. It is sold commercially in both fresh and dehydrated forms.
The sinuous curves of the Cybis seaweed are reminiscent of a wide pappardelle ribbon pasta! But that would need to incorporate either beetroot or bilberries to attain this color.

The gold-painted detail along the edge of the base section is a classic Cordey element that often appears in pieces that are either dual-marked (Cybis and Cordey) or are Cybis-marked but in Cordey style. However, the naturalistic form of the white ‘papka-pile’, as well as the seaweed ribbons, are more similar to the studio-type pieces seen in the 1940s Papka and Early Porcelain Designs post.

Whoever created this piece knew something about underwater biology, because the base section includes four purple Zoa tube corals (the short round tubes; they really are purple IRL) and shows the holdfasts (curved structures) that anchor seaweeds to the rock that they grow on.

The fact that it is signed M.B. Cybis puts the fish into the mid-1940s timeframe chronologically. The partial outline of a circle appears to be glue residue from an old sticker of some sort, possibly from a retail store.

I’ve dubbed this piece the fish among seaweed because we do not know if it was ever given a name by the studio.

Of course, the big question is: Was this a one-off or sample, or were there more? And, if there was a ‘school’ of these made for retail sale, were they all the same color? There’s no way to know, but a similar purple shade has been found in several examples of Cordey-style/Cybis-marked retail pieces. If anyone happens to have one of these, in either the same or a different color, I’d love the chance to add photos of it to this post! There is a contact-form link below.

Once again, my sincere thanks to Mary Garcia for bringing this charming Cybis fish to my attention and supplying the wonderful photos for this post. You have a rare catch there indeed…and that’s no ‘fish story’! 😊

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