Madeline at the Paris Flower Market, 1955 Oil on canvas The Estate of Ludwig Bemelmans TM and © Ludwig Bemelmans, LLC.

Madeline at the Paris Flower Market, 1955
The Estate of Ludwig Bemelmans
TM and © Ludwig Bemelmans, LLC.

Madeline, the little French girl from Ludwig Bemelmans’ classic tales set in a Catholic girl’s school in Paris, France, is visiting the New-York Historical Society this summer.

Madeline, who preceded the precocious Dennis the Menace and Eloise, made her debut in 1939 and has been getting up to no good ever since.

We all think of Madeline as the quintessential French child but she was actually born in New York (that might account for her sass).  Bemelmans published the first-ever Madeline book while living in NYC. He wrote out the first lines of his most famous book on the back of a napkin in the historic and literary haunt, Pete’s Tavern in Gramercy Park.

Bemelmans drew his story ideas from his own childhood in Europe as well as from his adult life in New York. As a child, he was a bit of a Madeline himself and as a young man, he was given the choice of reform school or America and he chose the latter. Arriving in NYC from Germany in 1914 at the age of 16, his first job was as a busboy at the Ritz Hotel where he worked for many years while developing his career as a cartoonist and artist.

The Madeline in New York: The Art of Ludwig Bemelmans exhibit features some of his original sketches for Madeline and other memorabilia which provide insight into his creative process. Bemelmans loved writing books for children, whom he described as “a clear-eyed, critical and hungry audience.”  Children familiar with the charismatic Madeline will enjoy the exhibit’s full-sized paintings of scenes from the beautifully illustrated books.

Madeline and the Bad Hat (The Viking Press, 1956/57) Dummy Cover for Madeline and the Bad Hat, ca. 1956/57 The Estate of Ludwig Bemelmans TM and © Ludwig Bemelmans, LLC.

The story continues….

Prior to his death in 1962, Bemelmans was developing an idea with Jacqueline Kennedy to write a book about Madeline at the White House. He died before that could happen but his grandson, John Bemelmans Marciano, picked up where his grandfather left off and it was published in 2011 along with several other new stories for young readers to enjoy.

Must do:

Walk through the exhibit with the family audio guide, which includes an excerpt from an interview with Bemelmans from the 1950’s and discover the cultural references that he liked to include in his books.

While at the NYHS take advantage and visit the Dimenna Children’s Museum.

Attend a family Paris-inspired tea event with readings from the Madeline books on select days. Tickets are available online (Adults $50/Children $40).