Madeline, the smallest of the “twelve little girls in two straight lines” who lived in “an old house in Paris that was covered in vines,” was born in Manhattan. In Pete’s Tavern on Irving Place in 1938, Ludwig Bemelmans scrawled those first rhyming lines that would introduce his petite heroine of the Madeline books.
Bemelmans, born of a German mother and Belgian father, arrived in New York City in 1914, passing his first night stranded on Ellis Island after his dad forgot to meet him. To mark the centenary of the children’s book author and illustrator stepping into Gotham, the New-York Historical Society opened Madeline in New York: The Art of Ludwig Bemelmans earlier this month. In conjunction with the exhibition, illustrator Adrienne Ottenberg created a map of “Bemelmans’ New York.”
Paris and its ornate environs may be Madeline’s home, but New York was Bemelmans’ base. He started in 1915 as a busboy at the old Ritz Hotel, working his way up into the upper echelons of society. Ottenberg’s map charts the places where he lived and died (the National Arts Club on Gramercy Park in October of 1962). There’s also the Museum of the City of New York, where in 1959 he had his first solo show, and the Carlyle Hotel bar on 76th Street, where you can still drink alongside his whimsical Central Park mural from 1947. Madeline in New York also holds relics of his New York wanders, including drawings of frenetic life in the Ritz and lampshades from the Carlyle, one showing the Statue of Liberty in his playful, impressionistic style.
The map of “Bemelmans’ New York” by Ottenberg is below, and can be found larger on the New-York Historical Society site.
Madeline in New York: The Art of Ludwig Bemelmans continues at the New-York Historical Society (170 Central Park West, Upper West Side, Manhattan) through October 19.