Although my vicious allergy prevents me from owning – or even being around – a real cat, I’m a sucker for fine representations of them (as you may have guessed from my Favorite Cat Memes posts.) Combine that with my interest in art porcelain, and the question naturally arises: Who created the most perfect porcelain kitties?
Here are the lineups from the four major classic porcelain studios in the USA and England: Boehm, Cybis, Connoisseur of Malvern, and Royal Worcester. Between them they created a total of 30 portraits of domestic cats, only three of which were produced as limited editions although some of the others had very short production runs. They are all shown below, in ascending order of cats-per-studio.
The Boehm studio in Trenton produced only four cat studies from 1953 to 1990. Their British satellite operation, Boehm of Malvern, never produced any domestic cat sculptures that I have found, although they did do some wild cats.
The first Boehm feline was this cat (or kitten?) playing with a ball, produced for only three years (1953-1956) and assigned mold #124. Supposedly only 51 of these were made. Many thanks to Dorothy Farrar, a longtime retailer of Boehm and owner of Brock & Farrar, for identifying this cat for me and supplying all the relevant information! It has a simple painted script Boehm signature as shown.
The mother cat and two kittens was made from 1954 to 1961. It is 5.25″ high and 4.25″ wide. There were three versions: plain white bisque (unglazed), decorated (color) bisque, and decorated glazed. Again thanks to Dorothy Farrar we know that only 146 of these (all versions) were produced. The first version was the glazed decorated (at left in first photo) which has the green horse-and-shield stamp; 74 of these were made. The bisque decorated came a bit later and has the horsehead-over-name mark; there were 62 of those. I could not find a photo of the white bisque, which is the rarest at only 10 pieces produced, but it’s likely that it has the same stamp as the decorated bisque does. Many thanks to Dorothy for the photos of the two in her collection! None of these have a name or design number on the bottom.
The next Boehm feline was the Kitten, design #400-91, an open edition in 1977 that was closed in 1981. This cutie is 4.5″ high and came in three colorways: white/grey, black/white, and orange tabby.
The final Boehm feline was the Cat (Sitting), a 1990 sealpoint Persian (?) that is 5.5″ high. I have only seen it in this colorway. This too was an open edition.
CONNOISSEUR OF MALVERN
Two of the limited edition cats are among the five made by Connoisseur of Malvern during the 1980s. All of these were designed by Christopher Ashenden, their premier animal and bird sculptor.
The white kitten Snowflake was issued in 1984 as an open edition and is 8″ high.
Snowflake’s partner in crime, the calico Whisky, appeared in 1985 and is also 8″ high.
The remaining Connoisseur kitties are all Siamese. There’s a bit of confusion, thanks to dueling backstamps, over when the open-edition Blue Eyes (upper photo; no flowers) appeared but I have a photo of a backstamp saying it was 1987. I have also seen one with an undated backstamp. Height is 9 inches.
The lower photo, combining the same kitten with a group of blue gentians, was a limited edition of 100 named Innocence. Here’s where the dueling backstamps come in: Some show an issue year of 1983, while others say 1987. One source from that era says that Blue Eyes came first, followed a few years later by Innocence, but that doesn’t explain the 1983 Innocence examples. So it’s still murky. A quirk of both series is that some have a yellowish tint to the fur, while others do not. It depended entirely on which artist painted a given piece; some favored the yellow/cream shading while others did not use it.
The other limited edition piece is Queen of Siam, showing a mother cat and her kitten. A 1987 edition of only 50, this is a substantial piece at 13.5″ high, 17″ wide, and 12.5″ deep.
The nine cats from Royal Worcester fall into two groups: three Freda Doughty ones from the 1950s, and six James Alder designs from the 1970s. None were limited editions, and all are smallish in size being no more than 4″ tall.
The Doughty cats are all glazed, and contain “F.G. Doughty” in their Royal Worcester backstamps along with the sculpture title. At left is her Short Hair Cat (design #3616) in the ginger colorway; it also came in calico. The other is #3615, the Long Hair Cat which I believe only came in grey as shown. They are 3.5″ and 4″ high respectively.
Part of Royal Worcester’s “Alice in Wonderland” series in the 1950s was the Cheshire Cat, design #3609, at 3.5″ high.
The James Alder “Kittens” series came out in 1978 and 1979. The six pieces range from 2″ to 4″ high and are (clockwise from the highest/center) Siamese, Blue Persian, Tabby, Black & White, Ginger, and Persian. These are bisque (unglazed) and all have their name in the stamp except for the white Persian with the blue ribbon.
The Cybis studio takes the prize for the most cats (12) with the inclusion of three produced under their Cordey imprint and one that was a Cybis but not an original design. The overall retail period runs from the 1940s to the late 1980s. Their single limited edition cat is a 1980s piece. Cybis pieces never have the sculpture name on them.
Boleslaw Cybis’ original retail line was produced under the name Cordey, from the 1940s until the early 1950s. Cordey items were created in the same studio as the Cybis retail pieces which first appeared in the early 1950s. There were only two Cordey cat molds: a sitting cat in two sizes (about 8″ and 9″ high), and a reclining cat that is 6.5″ high. Style of decoration can vary widely been examples, as is typical of all Cordey pieces.
This was the first cat sold under the Cybis brand name, but it is not an original Cybis design; like almost all 1950s Cybis pieces, it was cast from a mold they bought from an outside firm – in this case, the Holland Mold Company. Cybis added the base, decoration, and (probably) ball to the existing cat mold. Lacking any official name, I call this the 1950s kitten with ball. It is 4.5″ high x 6″ wide. Cybis was selling this cat at the same time that Boehm was producing their Cat/Kitten With Ball shown in the first photo; I wonder which studio had the idea first?
Cat is the first original feline design from the modern Cybis studio, made from 1961 to 1965 and standing (sitting) 6″ high. Because they were all hand painted, we find some in which grey predominates, some that are mostly brown, and others (like my own example at the left) that combine both tints fairly equally.
Although the official name of this piece was Kitten, it is univerally known by collectors as the Kitten with Blue Ribbon. Made for only three years (1967-1969) it is 6″ high x 9″ wide. It is one of my three favorite Cybis cat sculptures, the other two being the 1961 Cat and the 1983 Chelsea shown below.
Another short production run was the Sleeping Kitten, available in two colorways from 1975 to 1977. The orange/ginger is Topaz and the grey is Tabitha. Size is 3″ high x 5.5″ wide.
The first of two multi-cat sculptures was Taffy, Toffee and Tiger in 1982. Roughly the same size as the Sleeping Kitten of the previous decade, this piece was retired sometime before 1988.
Their only limited edition cat piece was Ruffles and Truffles in 1983. There is conflicting documentation about how large the edition was, either initially or finally. It may have been 750, or 500, or as low as 400. Unfortunately none of the sources are directly from Cybis, so it’s murky. Because the edition was closed before 1988, my guess is that the final count was 400 or less (at least 353 were definitely made.) This sculpture measures 6″ high and about 10″ wide.
Next up: two white Persians. Chelsea in 1983 (upper photo) was followed by Chantilly in 1984. Both continued to be available until the late 1990s. They are 5.5″ and 4″ high, respectively.
The final Cybis cat was part of a five piece series called the “Musical Menagerie” of various animals playing instruments, starting in 1986. Cal the Musical Cat appeared in 1987, playing his concertina (why they didn’t call him “Cal the Concertina Cat” I have no idea) and is 6.5″ high. Additional views of the Cybis felines can be found on this page of my Cybis website.
HONORABLE MENTION: CATS FROM OTHER PORCELAIN STUDIOS
Although eight other porcelain studios produced cats, most either made too few or most of the results fall into the category of “mass market collectible” or “décor” rather than art porcelain. However, several deserve a special mention here. None are/were American studios or companies.
Although Albany Fine China [UK] concentrated much of their efforts on horses and dogs, they did make one (known) cat. This Siamese designed by Neil Campbell was a limited edition of 250 in the early 1990s. It is 7″ high and almost 9″ long on its wood base.
Gunther Granget likewise focused far more on other animals, particularly birds, but he did design two small glazed Siamese for Hutschenreuther [Germany.] Their backstamps date them to between the mid 1950s and early 1960s. The sitting cat is 7.5″ tall, and the meowing cat is 5.25″ h x 7″ w. Both Albany and Granget will be subjects of a future “Lost Porcelain Studios” retrospective.
The vast majority of Herend [Hungary] pieces exhibit their signature overall “net” design, and their cats are no exception. For this reason I put them into the décor category while acknowledging that there are plenty of serious Herend collectors out there as well. 🙂 Some of their animal pieces are also made in an alternate colorway with naturalistic decoration rather than the traditional Herend patterning.
Royal Copenhagen [Denmark] is a bit of a special case. The original company, the Royal Porcelain Works, goes back to the 1700s but as the 20th century wore on, their non-dinnerware items became steadily more of the large-retail-quantity variety… especiallly after 1987 when they merged with Bing & Grondahl. Nowadays Royal Copenhagen is part of the Fiskars conglomerate (yes, the people who make scissors and garden shears) along with Waterford, Wedgwood, Royal Doulton and Royal Albert. So there are plenty of glazed Royal Copenhagen cat figurines to be had on eBay for less than $100 at any time. However, the ones that were produced during the very early 1900s are a different breed of cat entirely and are often shockingly expensive when seen for sale today. Here are four Royal Copenhagen cat designs from the Art Deco period or earlier. they are (IMHO) much better designed and more interesting than the later ones. I’ve broken my self-imposed rule and snuck in a “wild cat” at the end because I couldn’t resist! From top to bottom: a stalking cat (4″ h x 18″ l) in two colorways; a mackeral tabby, 5″ h; a yawning cat, 7″ h; and the 8.5″ high leopard.
I will be pilloried by the Lladro [Spain] collectors if I fail to mention these, but again this is another brand that didn’t really make it into full-fledged art-porcelain status – quite possibly because even during the collecting heydays of the 1970s and 1980s their pricepoints were lower than the Big Four. In more recent times their market niche is shared with Royal Copenhagen and the others noted below. Most Lladro cats debuted in the 1980s and continued production into the 2000s, and all are the typical high-glaze “Lladro look.” There are two exceptions, however. The large (16″ long) “Prowling Cat” was made for five years (1970-75) and was offered in grey and in brown tones. The statuesque “Egyptian Cat” was only made for two years (1983-85) and is 13″ high. It was offered in a choice of black, brown, or grey. Only about 40 of the brown and the grey ones were made and so this is one of the most expensive second-market Lladro pieces. A white version also sold at auction in 2016.
The Lomonosov Porcelain factory [Russia] is another entry into the “small to moderate size, large production quantity glazed figures” category. Most of their cats are/were available in alternate colorways. This collage shows a small sample, though I think the most interesting is the one at the lower left – a stylized depiction of the Far Eastern Wildcat that lives in the Primorye Territory.
Goebel [Germany] and Beswick [UK] also made cat figurines similar in size and scope to those from Lomonosov, Lladro, and Royal Copenhagen. In the mid-1980s the (in)famous Franklin Mint offered a “Curio Cats” series of miniature 2″-3″ figurines based on the style of various brands such as Belleek, Herend, Cybis, Lalique, etc., some of which were cast in porcelain but all of which were made offshore. The American based company Lenox has made many mass-production cat figurines, most of which were produced in vitreous china but some in porcelain, and made variously in Mexico, the Phillipines, China, or the USA depending on the particular item and even within the same item itself; many collectors say there is a noticeable difference between a made in USA example and the same figurine made “offshore.” Resin (sometimes deceptively described as “cold cast porcelain”) cat figurines produced in Asia are also part of the Lenox brand lineup.
Which of the four major studios’ fabulous felines do you think was the most purr-fect? 🙂