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Ludwig Bemelmans

Ludwig Bemelmans - Collecting Book Illustrators

Author and illustrator Ludwig Bemelmans (1898-1962) is best known as the creator of the Madeline series of children’s books. The son of a troubled family, Bemelmans was born in Austria, lived for a time in Germany, and moved to New York in 1914 after a scrape with the law. Bemelmans seems to have been something of an eccentric. In addition to working as hotelier at various times throughout his life, he briefly owned a Parisian bistro called La Colombe. The murals he created for its walls have since been transferred to the United States. He also served in the U.S. Army during World War One, though he never saw action.

The Madeline series made Bemelmans famous, but he also created numerous other works, including several other illustrated children’s books. He was a frequent contributor – both as a writer and as an artist – to Town and Country magazine, which featured his work on many of its covers published over a period of twenty-five years. The magazine commissioned from him a series of illustrations entitled “Farewell to the Ritz”, celebrating the hotel for which he once worked. He illustrated a short-lived feature for New York World and made designs for menus, logos, and other promotional graphics for restaurants and hotels. He painted murals of Central Park that still grace the Bemelmans Bar of New York’s Carlyle Hotel, as well as for the playroom of Aristotle Onassis’s daughter, who was a Madeline fan as were his future Kennedy step-children. Bemelmans sold works of art through the Hammer Gallery in New York, wrote a script for a Fred Astaire movie based on one of his pieces in Town & Country, and authored several written works for adults.

In 2014, the New York Historical Society held a major exhibition of Bemelmans’s art to mark Madeline’s seventy-fifth anniversary of publication. The Ocean House hotel in Rhode Island hosts a more permanent showing of Bemelmans’s works, including the La Colombe murals. Relatively few of his originals are on long-term display; with the exception of the works at Ocean House, only his murals at the Carlyle are consistently available to the public. It’s fortunate, therefore, that his seven Madeline books, as well as a later series written and illustrated by his grandson John Bemelmans-Marciano, have introduced generations to his charming and whimsical works of art. Quite a few of his other titles for children and adults – full of his illustrations inside as well as on the dust jackets – are available for Bemelmans enthusiasts to collect.

Author Bio:

Alexandra Kiely is a twenty-something writer, researcher, and art historian from New Jersey. She loves reading, figure skating, ballroom dance, and art – especially gargoyles. Visit Alexandra on her website Writer to the Arts and blog A Scholarly Skater.



First Edition Identification

Notable and collectible books illustrated by Ludwig Bemelmans

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