Because there are relatively few surviving records of the first decade of Cybis porcelain retail items, it’s always exciting when something comes to light that was never mentioned in any of their publications. Invariably, the circa-1950s human figures turn out to be religious subjects: a madonna, a saint, or a Jesus figure. So, when an Archive reader contacted me to ask about a pair of tall Cybis-marked human figures with gold trim on their bases, I immediately assumed that they were probably examples of Cybis in Cordey style – but was gobsmacked when I received photos. Far from being ‘Cordey-esque’, they are the first non-religious 1950s human figures that I have seen. In addition, they have several other interesting characteristics!
The pieces represent a very well-known ‘couple’, based on the 18th-century British portraits known as The Blue Boy and Pinkie. Let’s have a very quick history lesson, shall we?
The Blue Boy was painted circa 1770 by Thomas Gainsborough, and is assumed to be of 18-year-old Jonathan Buttall. Jonathan, although the scion of a wealthy merchant family, didn’t exactly measure up to the level of his father’s success; before the age of 40 he was bankrupt and had to sell pretty much everything he owned…including his Gainsborough portrait.
The young girl’s portrait is of Sarah Moulton, whose nickname in her family was Pinkie. The Moultons made their fortune by exporting sugar and rum from Jamaica to England. The artist chosen to paint Pinkie in 1794 was Thomas Lawrence; she was only eleven years old at the time and had come to England a couple of years previously. Sadly, Pinkie died only a year after Lawrence finished the portrait.
The Buttall and Moulton families never knew each other, and the two portraits only later were brought together by chance. Henry Edwards Huntington, owner of the Pacific Electric Railway and fulfilling every definition of being a ‘railroad tycoon’, was an avid art collector. He happened to purchase both paintings during the early 1920s, brought them to his 600-acre ranch/estate in California, hung them adjacent to each other, and invited the public to view them amongst the rest of his collection. That was how the association of the Blue Boy and Pinkie began, and representations of them together have adorned almost every conceivable retail object ever since.
No, these are not the Cybis pieces! (I can hear the sighs of relief.) They were cast from molds manufactured and sold by the Holland Mold Company, just like the vast majority of 1950s Cybis retail pieces were. This pair is one of countless hobbyist examples that have been created. Holland sold this pair of molds in two sizes: 12” tall, and 16” tall.
Most such examples will still have the Holland mold impression on the underside, although the potter could eliminate them if he/she chose. This particular Blue Boy still has the optional cut-out area intact.
The Blue Boy and Pinkie by Cybis
Let me begin by expressing my sincere thanks to Steve Forgacs, of Brickhouse Salvage and Antiques in upstate New York, for bringing his find to my attention and providing all of the photos shown below. As you can imagine, in his line of work he comes across all sorts of unusual things!
Because this is the first time I’ve seen an example of Cybis’ version of The Blue Boy and Pinkie, I will make a few general comments that apply to both, before drilling down into the details.
They were cast from the larger (16”) Holland Mold pair, and are finished in Cypia tonation rather than being a standard glazed white piece. There is every reason to suppose that Cybis also produced these in glazed white and/or in glazed color. I would love to see examples of those colorways too, and so if anyone reading this happens to have one or both, there is a contact form at the bottom of this page! 🙂
The nature of the marks on the underside are very useful in dating these. Both have the original-style Cybis name stamp in blue, which immediately pegs these to the first half of the 1950s rather than later on. But the Blue Boy has something else as well: an impressed double-C mark, which refines the creation date further to the late 1940s-early 1950s. Because they are both done in Cypia, there’s no reason to think that Pinkie was not also created at the same time or very close to it.
One of the most unusual aspects of these is the choice of the base mold, which is clearly one that Holland (most likely) produced for lamps. The hole for a post/stem, and the notch at the rear for the electrical cord to exit, makes that plain. But why not use a normal (non-lamp) base? The Cybis operation itself never made lamps – although the Cordey side of the factory made plenty of figurines that were sent to the Philadelphia shop for the purpose of becoming lamp bases (see any of my Cordey-lamps posts for numerous examples.) As far as I know, the Church Street studio never even had lamp components on hand. Did they simply not bother to close up the lamp-use openings in these bases? Seems odd to me.
However, their decorative technique of flowers, foliage, and ‘grass/moss’ is pure 1950s Cybis. We can look at any of the bases of the 1950s animal, bird, nativity, and saints figures (such as Saint Francis) and see the exact same technique. The narrow gold band/edge is also seen on a few 1950s pieces as well. Cordey bases were entirely different shapes, and their gold trim typically outlined various curves and waves.
Flowers and Lace
This is where we really see a big difference between the Holland Mold and Cybis examples. Here are the areas where the Cybis piece is a definite ‘upgrade’!
This is the front of the Blue Boy base, with two roses and accompanying leaves, plus a ‘leafy/ground’ texturized effect. The bottom edge of his leggings has also been adorned with a rose and dipped-lace bow on each side.
The Holland mold pair have solid ruffled collar trims as part of the body mold. Cybis added a second layer of dipped lace on top of that, creating a two-layer ruffle. On this Blue Boy, the ruffle made of dipped lace is seen more clearly in the back section.
The same was done for Pinkie’s collar ruffle, although the lace here is more delicate. In this photo, part of a large bow made of dipped lace can be seen peeking out from the left rear of her bonnet.
Her base also sports a pair of roses with their foliage.
There are several lacy improvements here! First, the edge of her puffed sleeves which are plain in the Holland mold. The mold’s plain waistband is also topped with a second layer of dipped lace ribbon, which extends down her skirt (more about that in a moment.) The spray of flowers at her waist (a rose and a spray of stephanotis buds and leaves) is almost the same as we find decorating one of the 1950s Cybis madonnas (their design #223) which is described here in the Archive as the seated madonna and child with one foot extended because I have no idea what Cybis may have called it – if indeed it did have a name.
Perhaps the same Cybis artist was in charge of hand-forming that particular flower spray for both this madonna and Pinkie!
Here is a better view of the long dipped-lace ribbons coming down from Pinkie’s waistband. Frankly, I am amazed that none of them appear to have broken off during the approximately 75 years since this was made! My guess is that she has lived much of her life in a curio or china cabinet.
I’d really love to find out whether Cybis produced more of this famous couple and, if so, whether they made them in any additional colorways or sizes. But regarding this particular pair, here are the aspects that I find especially intriguing:
- They are the only non-religious circa-1950s retail human figures that I have yet seen.
- At 17” (including the base section) they are large even compared to most of the 1950s religious figures. The Mystical Rose full figure madonna on its base is 17” tall, and Our Lady of Lourdes ‘Healer of the Sick’ tops out at just above 19”, but almost all of their 1950s human figures or busts are shorter than Blue Boy and Pinkie.
- These were done in the Cypia tonation, which was less frequently used than the glazed white or glazed color technique, and was abandoned after the 1950s.
- One of them has the double-C impression which was used only in the late 1940s and very early 1950s (if even that long.)
- Why mount them on an obvious ‘lamp’ base?? Were these simply samples, or test pieces? If so, why bother to mark them in the same way as for their retail items? I very much doubt that the notion of making Cybis-branded lamps was ever floated, because they would then be competing against themselves (i.e., against Cordey.)
- And last but certainly not least, I’m amazed that they have survived this long without damage to the very delicate decoration areas!
Again, if anyone has either or both of these sitting on a shelf or in a box, in a different colorway or with different markings (a penciled design code would be fabulous, but I know I’m reaching for the moon there), please let me know; I’d love to add them here. And once again, a big thank-you to Steve Forgacs for uncovering and sharing his find!
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