It’s usually easy to identify the story behind each of the Cybis porcelain ‘character’ studies, but there’s one in particular that threw me for a loop at first ….as well as having an unfinished tale of her own.
Fleurette was introduced in 1981 as a limited edition of 1000 at a price of $725; by 1988 she was retailing at $1075. She is 8.25″ high and is no longer seen on the Cybis site, which means that her edition was either completed or closed early (although I do not know in what year, or whether the edition size was ultimately reduced.)
The back of her robe is decorated with morning glory flowers and vines. She holds a single pink morning glory flower in her hand; others bedeck her ribbon belt and her hair as well. The double lace ruffle along her neckline is very fragile and prone to breakage if subjected to less-than-scrupulously-careful handling.
This Fleurette was originally intended to be the the first in a short series; an early 1982 Cybis retail price list shows her name with this notation: Also to be released upon completion of the first version, two additional interpretations of 1000 each. The studio clearly intended to repeat the format of Rapunzel who was issued in three consecutive editions, differing only in colorway and decorative accessories, during the 1970s. (All of those can be seen in the Fairytales post.)
Now we come to the question of who – if anyone – Fleurette is meant to represent. A retailer advertisement during her introduction year described her as being “a fairytale princess”… but which one?
The first possibility that came to my mind was the operetta Barbe-bleu (in English, Bluebeard) written by Offenbach in 1865; it is based on the story by Charles Perrault, who is regarded as the “father” of the fairytale genre. So that seemed to connect with the ad’s description of the Cybis piece. And indeed, one one of the main characters in the operetta is Fleurette, a peasant girl who is in love with, and is loved by, a prince named Saphir. It turns out that Fleurette is actually the Princess Hermia who was taken away in disguise as a young child so that she would not inherit the throne. However, with the prospect of a royal husband in the offing, her father the King has a change of heart and brings back Fleurette/Hermia for a lavish wedding. When she arrives at court the lovely princess also catches the eye of the unscrupulous knight Barbe-bleu and the rest of the opera deals with all of the complications that ensue. (In the English version of the opera, the Fleurette/Princess Hermia character is named Flora/Princess Periwink.) And so I thought “Aha! This must be the Fleurette that the Cybis artist based the sculpture on.”
Hmmm, well, not so fast….
Recently I was able to finally replace my lost 1981 catalog, which includes this within its introduction to the “Children to Cherish” section:
Fleurette is from the classic story about a princess who promised to marry the prince who guessed her favorite flower. One has already given her a morning glory. Which blossom will she choose? Only time will tell, for after the completion of this initial version of the delightful story, Cybis will offer two additional interpretations. Which flower will your princess choose?
In addition, the official Cybis photograph in that catalog is captioned “Fleurette (morning glories)” which indicates that the subsequent two editions would feature a different flower.
From this it appeared that the Cybis Fleurette had nothing to do with the operetta character after all! I had never heard of the favorite-flower fairytale and so I went to my trusty Google bookmark, confident that I’d soon hunt it up.
And sure enough I found it: The Flower Princess by Abbie Farwell Brown, published in 1904. The princess’s name is indeed Fleurette and she lives in a castle having a large and elaborate garden. The plot of the story is that Fleurette, not really wanting to marry but aware that she must nevertheless observe convention, tells each of her suitors “I have no mind to exchange hearts, save with him who can find mine, where it is hidden among my flowers. Guess me my favorite flower, dear Prince, and I am yours.”
The morning glory does figure into the tale, because it is near a bower of morning glories that one day Fleurette meets a young man who is a wandering minstrel. However, she happens to be dressed in typical everyday attire; and as a game she pretends that she is merely “a friend of the princess.” She leaves him but the next day meets up with him in a different part of the garden, again in disguise. This time she is wearing a lily in her hair. On the third day she is carrying a rose, and on the fourth he finds her tending a bed of lavender. I won’t spoil the rest of the story for anyone who would like to read it but it’s clear that the other two planned Cybis interpretations would have featured one of the other flowers in the story. I do wonder, though, why there were only three planned versions instead of four; perhaps for technical reasons Cybis chose to forgo the lavender?
Unfortunately Cybis never made any additional versions of Fleurette, and so her story there was never “finished.” The 1988 Cybis retail price list does include her but without any notation as to any future editions, so it appears that the studio had by then decided not to proceed and to simply stop at one.
By the way, after many trials one young man in the story does eventually pass Fleurette’s test… but is the Cybis Fleurette holding the correct flower?? I guess you will have to read the fairytale to find out!
via Google books: The Flower Princess
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