Purpose of this Blog...

You may have noticed that not all books are equal in capturing children's imaginations and in cultivating those innocent, tender souls. My goal is to help you find the ones that do!
(Painting by Mary Cassatt: "Mrs Cassatt Reading to her Grandchildren" -1888)

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Madeline: A New York Girl? 75 Years Young!

Those twelve little girls in two straight lines? The smallest one was from the Big Apple!
Credit: Madeline at the Paris Flower Market, 1955. The Estate of Ludwig Bemelmans TM and © Ludwig Bemelmans, LLC.

When I visited New York City this past December with my husband, one of the things on my "to do" list was to sip a drink and listen to jazz piano at The Carlyle hotel, where the famed walls of Bemelmans' Bar are covered with Ludwig Bemelmans' gorgeous "Central Park" murals (the artist painted murals of New York scenes in exchange for 18 months’ free rent for himself and his family).

Surrounded by the art of the creator of Madeline, with wonderful food and music, and a happy crowd of Christmas shoppers taking a leisurely break, it was a fun New York moment that I'll never forget!

So why New York, and not Paris?  Seems this Austrian born artist/illustrator felt most at home in America - he arrived in New York at the age of 16!  And that's where his character of Madeline was born...

Even though Bemelmans' early life was not a very happy one, he used the Madeline books to re-invent the childhood he mourned, "the one he wished he had". 

He very artfully combined childhood memories with experiences he had as an adult to create his first Madeline book in 1939.

It all made sense this morning when I was reading today's Boston Globe piece about the "Madeline at 75" exhibit at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.  "The Carle's" popular exhibit - which debuted at the New York Historical Society last year, will be at The Carle through February 22, 2015.  

Surprises about Bemelmans' mischievous little Madeline are revealed at this wonderful exhibit, researched through writings and interviews with Belemans' daughter and his grandson, John Bemelmans Marciano: one is that she is an American-born girl who happens to be living at a French boarding school in Paris (as opposed to a French girl at a Paris orphanage, as many assume - go here for the NPR interview with Bemelemans' grandson).

Madeline, the beloved star of the classic children’s books, may have lived in Paris but she was born in New York. According to “The Smallest One Was Madeline: An Appreciation of Ludwig Bemelmans,” the essay in the show’s catalog by curator Jane Bayard Curley, Bemelmans wrote his first draft on the back of a menu at Pete’s Tavern near Gramercy Park. An Austrian immigrant and artist and bon vivant, Bemelmans would publish “Madeline” in September 1939 — the week World War II began. 

At the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst,
you can see the original Madeline manuscript
(Photo by Matthew Cavanaugh for the Boston Globe - source)

Also on exhibit at The Carle are letters between Bemelmans and first lady Jacqueline Kennedy.  Did you know that Bemelmans hoped to collaborate on a book with Mrs. Kennedy about Madeline at the White House? (Caroline Kennedy was a huge fan of the books.) 

Jacqueline Kennedy reading Madeline to her daughter Caroline
(Photo by Matthew Cavanaugh for the Boston Globe - source)

Unfortunately, Bemelmans died in 1962. But luckily in 2011, his grandson, James Bemelmans Marciano - who carries on his grandfather's legacy - finally wrote and published a Madeline story in which she goes to the White House.

And did you know that Miss Clavel is not a nun, but a governess? You can read more here from the Boston Globe piece about the exhibit (including some details about Bemelmans' sad childhood and the character of Miss Clavel that are not part of the exhibit).

Bemelmans also illustrated 31 covers for the New Yorker magazine.  Go here to see many of them.
Cover by Bemelmans for The New Yorker, Oct. 9, 1954

Below, you might enjoy the informative segment that CBS Sunday Morning News did about Bemelmans and his precocious character, Madeline. (Works best if you view full screen, or click the above link).