"In an old house in Paris, that was covered with vines, lived twelve little girls in two straight lines ... the smallest one was Madeline."
I've read this opening sentence ad nauseum lately since Ludwig Bemelans' classic children's book "Madeline" is one of my daughter's favorites. The spunky young girl made her debut 75 years ago and would go on to appear in six more books. This month a big exhibit at the New-York Historical Society is opening called "Madeline in New York: The Art of Ludwig Bemelmans", featuring everyone's favorite Parisian convent girl and other art from the master himself.
But if she lived in Paris, you might ask, what does Madeline have to do with NYC?
Because she was born here. Bemelman had a Belgian father and a German mother and was born in Austria in 1898. As a young man, he immigrated to the United States and, after many years as a frustrated artist, he dreamed up the story of Madeline at Pete's Tavern on Irving Place, scribbling her for the first time on the back of a menu. Generations of children have grown up to love the "Madeline" stories and, Parisian that she is, Madeline definetely has a New York spirit.
This exhibit will be on display until October and the wife and I are hopefully going to see it soon. If you have kids, you might want to check it out.
Interesting postscript: Bemelmans decorated the bar in the famous Carlyle Hotel on 76th street and Madison Avenue and that's why, no surprise, it's called the Bemelman's Bar.