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Ludwig Bemelmans

Ludwig Bemelmans
Ludwig Bemelmans.jpg
Born(1898-04-27)April 27, 1898
Meran, Austria-Hungary (now Italy)
DiedOctober 1, 1962(1962-10-01) (aged 64)
New York City, United States
Resting placeArlington National Cemetery
OccupationWriter, illustrator
CitizenshipUnited States (from 1918)
GenreChildren's picture books
Notable worksMadeline series (1939–1999)
Notable awardsCaldecott Medal
SpouseMadeleine Bemelmans
ChildrenBarbara Bemelmans

Ludwig Bemelmans (born April 27, 1898 – October 1, 1962[1]) was an Austro-Hungarian-born American writer and illustrator of children's books. He is known best for the Madeline picture books. Six were published since 1939.[2]

Early life

Bemelmans was born to the Belgian painter Lambert Bemelmans and the German Frances Fischer in Meran, Austria-Hungary (now Italy). His father owned a hotel. He grew up in Gmunden on the Traunsee in Upper Austria. His first language was French and his second German.

In 1904, his father left the family for Ludwig's governess, after which his mother took Ludwig and his brother to her native city of Regensburg, Germany. Bemelmans had difficulty in school, as he hated the German style of discipline. He was apprenticed to his uncle Hans Bemelmans at a hotel in Austria. While an apprentice, he was regularly beaten and even whipped by the headwaiter. He finally warned the headwaiter that if he was whipped again he would retaliate with a gun. The headwaiter ignored his warning, whipped him, and Bemelmans reportedly shot and seriously wounded him in retaliation.[3] Given the choice between reform school and emigration to the United States, he chose the latter.[4]

In America

He spent the next several years working at hotels and restaurants in the US. In 1917, he joined the U.S. Army but was not sent to Europe because of his German origins. He did become an officer, and was promoted to Second Lieutenant. He writes of his experiences in the Army in the book, My War With the United States. In 1918, he became a US citizen.

In the 1920s, Bemelemans tried to become an artist and painter while working at hotels, but had substantial difficulties. His cartoon series The Thrilling Adventures of the Count Bric a Brac was dropped from the New York World after six months. He associated with Ervine Metzl, a commercial artist and illustrator who is variously described as Bemelmans's friend,[5][6] "agent",[6] and "ghost artist".[7]

Writing career

In the early 1930s Bemelmans met May Massee, the children's book editor at Viking Press, who became a sort of partner. He began to publish children's books, beginning with Hansi in 1934. He published the first Madeline book in 1939; after being rejected by Viking, it was published by Simon & Schuster.[8]

In 1953, he fell in love with a small bistro in Paris, La Colombe [fr] in the Ile de la Cité, and bought it. He painted murals therein and owned the place for two years before selling it to Michel Valette, who converted it into a notable cabaret.

Bemelmans also wrote a number of adult books, including travel and humorous works, as well as movie scripts. The latter included Yolanda and the Thief. While spending time in Hollywood, he became a close friend of interior decorator Elsie de Wolfe, Lady Mendl.

A mural on the walls of the Carlyle Hotel's Bemelmans Bar in New York City, Central Park, is his only artwork on display to the public. He painted the children's dining room on Aristotle Onassis's yacht Christina (now the Christina O), for the young daughter of the magnate, Christina Onassis.

Madeline series

Each Madeline story begins: "In an old house in Paris, that was covered with vines, lived twelve little girls in two straight lines... the smallest one was Madeline." The girls are cared for by Miss Clavel. She is likely a nun, as some French orders called themselves Madames, particularly that of St. Madeleine Sophie Barat,[9] after which this convent school seems to be modeled; and "Mrs." would not be an appropriate equivalent in English. Some have argued that Miss Clavel's apparel looks more like that of a nurse (although why a nurse is working in what appears to be a Paris convent school is not explained).

Other characters include Pepito, son of the Spanish ambassador, who lives next door; Lord Cucuface, owner of the house; and Genevieve, a dog who rescues Madeline from drowning in the second book. Bemelmans published six Madeline stories in his lifetime, five as picture books and one in a magazine. A seventh was discovered after his death and published posthumously:

  1. Madeline, 1939: in which Madeline must have her appendix removed
  2. Madeline's Rescue, 1953: in which Madeline is rescued from drowning by a dog (later named Genevieve). Winner of the Caldecott Medal for U.S. picture book illustration
  3. Madeline and the Bad Hat, 1956: in which the "bad hat" is Pepito, the Spanish ambassador's son, whose cruel antics outrage Madeline.
  4. Madeline and the Gypsies, 1959: in which Madeline and Pepito have an adventure at a circus.
  5. Madeline in London, 1961: in which Pepito moves to London, and Madeline and the girls go to visit him.
  6. Madeline's Christmas, 1985: in which everyone in the house catches cold, except Madeline. (First published in McCall's in 1956).
  7. Madeline in America and Other Holiday Tales, 1999: in which Madeline inherits a fortune from her American great-grandfather. The book also reveals Madeline's full name, Madeline Fogg.


Personal life

Bemelmans is said to have met his future wife, Madeleine "Mimi" Freund, as a model in Metzl's studio.[10] They had one daughter, Barbara, and three grandchildren, Paul Marciano, James Marciano, and John Bemelmans Marciano.[11]

Bemelmans died in New York of pancreatic cancer, aged 64.


  • 1934: Hansi
  • 1936: The Golden Basket
  • 1937: My War with the United States
  • 1937: The Castle Number Nine
  • 1938: Life Class – An autobiographical sketch.
  • 1938: Quito Express (travel book)
  • 1939: Madeline
  • 1939: Small Beer (humorous memoirs based on his experiences in Europe and Hollywood)
  • 1940: Fifi
  • 1941: At Your Service
  • 1941: Hotel Splendide
  • 1941: The Donkey Inside
  • 1942: Rosebud
  • 1942: I Love You, I Love You, I Love You
  • 1943: Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep
  • 1945: The Blue Danube
  • 1946: Hotel Bemelmans
  • 1947: A Tale of Two Glimps
  • 1947: Dirty Eddie
  • 1948: The Best of Times: An Account of Europe Revisited
  • 1949: The Eye of God
  • 1950: Sunshine: A Story about the City of New York
  • 1952: How to Travel Incognito
  • 1952: The Happy Place
  • 1953: Father, Dear Father
  • 1953: Madeline's Rescue
  • 1953: The Borrowed Christmas
  • 1954: The High World
  • 1955: Parsley
  • 1955: To the One I Love the Best – Bemelmans narrates his friendship with Elsie de Wolfe, Lady Mendl.
  • 1956: Madeline and the Bad Hat
  • 1957: The Woman of My Life
  • 1958: My Life in Art
  • 1959: Madeline and the Gypsies
  • 1960: Welcome Home!
  • 1960: Are You Hungry, Are You Cold
  • 1960: How to Travel To Europe All to Yourself
  • 1961: Italian Holiday
  • 1961: Madeline in London
  • 1962: Marina
  • 1962: On Board Noah's Ark
  • 1963: The Street Where the Heart Lies
  • 1964: La Bonne Table. Excerpts and essays involving food and drink, edited by Donald and Eleanor Friede
  • 1966: The Elephant Cutlet
  • 1985: Tell Them It Was Wonderful: Selected Writings (compilation of various autobiographical stories, published posthumously)
  • 1985: Madeline's Christmas (published 1956 in McCall's)
  • 1999: Madeline in America and Other Holiday Tales
  • 2004: Hotel Bemelmans (introduction by Anthony Bourdain) <Overlook Press, New York>


  1. ^ Jacobs, Deborah L. (27 November 2013). "Madeline And The Family Business". Forbes. Retrieved 2017-10-22.
  2. ^ Cullinan, Bernice E.; Person, Diane Goetz (2005). The Continuum Encyclopedia of Children's Literature. A&C Black. pp. 76–. ISBN 9780826417787. Retrieved August 25, 2015.
  3. ^ "How the Author of 'Madeline' Created His Most Famous Character". The New York Times. 27 April 2018. Retrieved 3 May 2018.
  4. ^ "At the old Ritz–Carlton the best tables went to society snobs, not to celebrities". Food: Michèle Roberts. New Statesmen. April 11, 2005. Page 57. Abstract at EBSCOhost:food; article available from some libraries.
  5. ^ Ludwig Bemelmans, Madeleine Bemelmans (1985). Tell Them It Was Wonderful: Selected Writings. Viking. p. 159. Retrieved May 24, 2010.
  6. ^ a b Fairfax M. Cone (1969). With All Its Faults: A Candid Account of Forty Years in Advertising. Little, Brown. Retrieved May 24, 2010.
  7. ^ Ron Barrett (1989). Sally Holmes Holtze, ed. Sixth book of junior authors & illustrators. H. W. Wilson. p. 25.
  8. ^ "Madeline in New York: Ludwig Bemelmans at the New-York Historical Society". Retrieved 2018-01-31.
  9. ^ St. Madeleine Sophie Barat, founder of the order
  10. ^ Laura Lee (2001). The Name's Familiar II. Pelican Publishing Co. p. 25. Retrieved May 22, 2010.
  11. ^ Jacobs, Deborah L. (November 27, 2013). "Madeline And The Family Business". Retrieved July 19, 2014.

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