French schoolgirl character 'Madeline' focus of New York exhibit

Thu Jul 3, 2014 1:22pm EDT
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By Lauren Young

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Madeline, the plucky French schoolgirl depicted in illustrated children’s books, was created 75 years ago and New York is marking the anniversary of the iconic character with a special exhibition.

"Madeline in New York: The Art of Ludwig Bemelmans," which opens at the New-York Historical Society on Friday, chronicles the story of the red-haired Parisian girl from Bemelmans books, which have spawned dolls, a television series and a live-action film.

“‘Madeline’ is one of the greats in the picture book world," Jane Bayard Curley, curator of the exhibition, said in an interview. “She is somebody who survives and thrives in the face of life’s troubles.”

More than 90 original artworks, including drawings and paintings, as well as menus, match books and one of the New York covers illustrated by Bemelmans, make up the exhibit. One of Curley's favorite artifacts is the original manuscript of "Madeline."

The show, which runs through Oct. 19, also recounts Bemelmans' life in New York as a bon vivant, hotelier and artist. It is the first New York exhibit to recognize his work since 1959.

Born in 1898 to a Belgian father and German mother, Bemelmans spent his youth at a family hotel in the Austrian Tyrol and at his grandfather's brewery in Regensburg, Germany. He was a failure academically and ran into trouble with the law.

"He was a flop," said Curley. "His options were reform school in Germany or America. He chose America."

After passing through New York's Ellis Island in 1914, he eventually found a job as a busboy at the city's famed Ritz Hotel, where he worked for more than 15 years.   Continued...

A reproduction of the image “The little girls all cried ‘Boo-hoo!’”  from the book Madeline and the Bad Hat is shown in this undated handout image.  REUTERS/Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Charles M. Royce/Handout via Reuters