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Madeline in New York: The Art of Ludwig Bemelmans

madeline in NY historical society

Who hasn't been charmed by the little French schoolgirl named Madeline? Reading the books to my girls was a wonderful rite of passage. Madeline was a childhood favorite, and now I can share her stories in a new way with my girls. I can share the history of the artist behind the books. This summer, the New-York Historical Society is presenting a special exhibition celebrating the 75th anniversary of Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans (1898-1962) and I got to pop in to see the exhibit early. I was really interested to find out more about the art of Ludwig Bemelmans.

Here's what I learned: creating children's books was a second career. Bemelmans started out as a hotelier and never got it out of his blood even after the success of the books. I also learned that Madeline was REJECTED by his editor. Just another example that you have to stick to your guns. Obviously the world wouldn't be quite as rich without these books.

Madeline was published in 1939 and Bemelmans went on to write five more Madeline stories, as well as develop the idea for Madeline in the White House with Jacqueline Kennedy (the book was eventually written by his grandson John Bemelmans Marciano who was at the opening event I attended).

The exhibition features more than 100 works including drawings, paintings, archival photographs and memorabilia like the artist’s paintbox.

It's a joy to see the pages of my favorite books blown up on a grand scale. One of my favorites was this one from Madeline and the Bad Hat showing some of Pepito's mischievous antics.

madeline art

My little girl was eager to join the rows of girls in yellow dresses led by Ms. Clavel.

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madeline in new york

The artwork was colorful, playful and the perfect way to spark a child's love of books. Take a moment to re-read a favorite in the book nook--we curled up with Madeline's Rescue.

madeline books

A few rare examples of Bemelmans's commissioned work were also on view, including two panels from murals created for the children's playroom of Aristotle Onassis’s yacht The Christina (those are on loan from Mr. and Mrs. Charles M. Royce), and two Madeline-themed lamps from Bemelmans Bar at the Carlyle Hotel.

Can't get to NYC? You can celebrate at home. Set up a tea party and pop open one of your favorite Madeline books. If you need a copy, Penguin has reissued a lavish slipcased edition of the original Madeline, with a full-color panoramic pop-up spread of Paris featuring famous landmarks like Madeline’s house. Here are some goodies from the gift shot at the NY Historical Society.

madeline gift shop

Be sure to carve time out of your summer to bring the kids to Madeline at the New-York Historical Society. The exhibit will be on view from July 2 through October 19, 2014 (put 170 Central Park West, New York City, NY 10024 into your phone to get there). The New-York Historical Society is dedicated to fostering research and presenting history and art exhibitions and public programs that reveal the dynamism of history and its influence on the world of today. Get more details on the museum here

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