“For me Madeline is therapy in the dark hours.” ~ Ludwig Bemelmans
“In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines lived twelve little girls in two straight lines…” is one of the most famous introductions to one of the most famous characters in children’s literature: Madeline. Ludwig Bemelmans created Madeline after a terrible accident that left him hospitalized at the age of 39. His hospital roommate was a young girl who had her appendix removed. Her stories of her life inspired Bemelmans to create Madeline.
Eventually Bemelmans recovered from his injuries and published his first Madeline book at age 41 after 20+ years of working in hotels in New York. During those two decades, he consistently practiced his art and slowly built up his freelance portfolio. His example has been a great inspiration to me as a writer.
Madeline was Bemelmans’ second act after many years of difficult work in a completely different industry. He never lost his optimism and never gave up. And thank goodness. Not only is Madeline therapy for him, but it’s therapy for all of his readers and admirers, particularly little girls who strive to be strong, brave, and courageous. The New-York Historical Society has mounted a retrospective of Bemelmans’ life and art with Madeline in New York: The Art of Ludwig Bemelmans.
Bemelmans Bar is one of my favorite bars in New York – tucked away in the Carlyle Hotel on East 76th Street. The walls are covered with his original drawings. It’s a good place to dream, and drink. If you’re in New York, I highly recommend it.