In the dusty archives of the home of a late real-estate owner in Switzerland, something magical was uncovered.
Bruno Stefanini, a camera-shy property owner based in Winterthur, Switzerland, left behind countless priceless historical objects and memorabilia when he passed away last December. One of the most shocking discoveries from the prolific collector’s estate was a handful of early sketches by The Little Prince author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.
Saint-Exupéry wrote The Little Prince, one of the most recognizable and beloved children’s stories of all time, in New York between 1941-1943. Before completing the original manuscript, now under the permanent care of The Morgan Library & Museum in New York, Saint-Exupéry doodled characters and scenes from the iconic tale on scraps of airmail stationery, according to artnet News.
Saint-Exupéry was an experienced aviator and airmail pilot in addition to having a talent for magical stories about otherworldly princes, and supplemented his writing with memories, anecdotes, and surrealist stories of his adventures crossing oceans and crash-landing in the desert.
He disappeared over the Mediterranean Sea on a reconnaissance flight mission in 1944.
Stefanini apparently purchased the sketches at an auction in 1986; members from the nonprofit cultural foundation he created discovered the sketches after the collector’s death while organizing and inventorying his prodigious collections for redistribution and preservation.
The sketches are cursory and imperfect but instantly recognizable as preludes to the famous drawings readers know so well. One sketch shows the Little Prince, sporting his iconic scarf, encountering the fox on an abandoned desert road that winds into the dusty distance. In addition to the Prince, Stefanini’s collection contains sketches of the boa constrictor that swallowed an elephant, the alcoholic “grown-up” who drinks in solitude on a planet no bigger than a table, and swaths and splotches of watercolor attempts.
According to the website for the Stiftung für Kunst, Kultur und Geschichte (Foundation for Art, Culture and History), the collection also includes love letters Saint-Exupéry wrote to his wife Consuelo and notes and illustrations about his flight missions.
It is unclear at this point what will happen to the preliminary sketches for The Little Prince although experts speculate Stefanini’s foundation may donate the sketches to the Morgan Library, which already has a comprehensive permanent exhibition on The Little Prince.
The Little Prince has been translated into two-hundred-seventy languages and sold hundreds of millions of copies worldwide. It is Saint-Exupéry’s final and most famous tale.
Featured Image Via Stiftung für Kunst, Kultur und Geschichte.