I recently went to the Morgan Library’s exhibit on Le Petit Prince and its author, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.
Saint-Exupéry was a French aviator and writer who, during a short stay in New York, wrote the famed children’s book.
The exhibit was as charming as I had hoped, capturing much of the magic of the book. But I was already fascinated before entering the exhibition room, as just before the entrance, under a display glass, was his identification bracelet.
Saint-Exupéry had disappeared in July 1944 on an assigned reconnaissance mission over the Mediterranean and was presumed to have died at this time. In 1998, fishermen found his identity bracelet in their nets leading to the unraveling of his mysterious death (you can read more about it here: nytimes.com/saint-exupery)
Entering the exhibit, I saw, hung along the walls, drafts of the characters and drawings so many of us have come to love.
Each drawing was accompanied by a small description of how the characters (the prince himself, the sheep, etc.) came to be, how they evolved, or why they weren’t even included in the final work; along with images of the final version for comparison.
For example, we learn that his dog, Hannibal, a boxer, was the inspiration for both the tiger and the fox. I love the fox and his long ears and it’s funny to think he was inspired by a boxer!
Saint-Exupéry often wrote and drew into the late evening hours, cigarette in mouth, coffee cup resting on the drawings themselves (as the many coffee rings and cigarette burns on the sketches can attest to. I quite liked this detail. It made it easier to imagine him, leaning over the paper thoughtfully, creating his world).
There was so much that I loved about this exhibit: original manuscripts, a small reading circle with copies of the book for children to read, photographs of St. Exupéry’s time in New York City, but the real gem was seeing those preliminary sketches.
Seeing a prince born.