Ludwig Bemelmans (1898 - 1962), Madeline at the Paris Flower Market, 1955, Watercolor, Credit The Estate of Ludwig Bemelmans TM and Ludwig Bemelmans, LLC
Wednesday, May 13, 2015
“In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines
Lived twelve little girls in two straight lines
In two straight lines they broke their bread
And brushed their teeth and went to bed.
They left the house at half past nine
In two straight lines in rain or shine-
The smallest one was Madeline.”
―Ludwig Bemelmans, Madeline
Award winning watercolorist and author, Ludwig Bemelmans brought to life a feisty redhead girl named Madeline who lived in a boarding school in the heart of Paris. The young girl embraced life with spunk and bit of mischief while flying magic carpets or after falling into the River Seine and being rescued by her new best friend, a dog named Genevieve. Madeline lived the life many young children could dream about painted in vibrant hues, a palette created by Bemelmans himself. Being a chronic insomniac Bemelmans eased his sleepless nights by gluing a map of Paris on the bedroom ceiling of his Gramercy Park apartment in New York City. He would trace the urban venial system with his flashlight in his imagination he would stroll upon the river banks of the River Seine. Possibly dreaming of new adventures for Madeline to explore and quite likely giving Miss Clavel the headmistress of the school a few more grey hairs and breathless concern for Madeline’s well-being. Though Bemelmans a watercolor illustrator proclaimed himself a “graphic workman”not a painter. He often struggled within himself developing the order of progression in which his thoughts and creative habits progressed, openly discussing his struggles with writing. Describing in his own words he found writing to “…always a dreadful, tiresome business and the worst of all tortures for me.”Bemelmans easily devised a beginning and an ending of a story, it was the middle that “baffled” him. By using his watercolor creations he leaned on ability to storybook his paintings to clarify the progression of a story line, like twelve little girls in two straight lines he hung his paintings at the same eye level on the same wall to construct a storyline. Channeling the muse of his creation he responded to his challenges with the attitude of Madeline facing a tiger at the zoo, “Pooh-pooh”and continued to challenge himself with his artistic endeavors. Bemelmans was credited to seven wonderful stories about Madeline during his lifetime, the bulk of his work was published in the 1950s. His sixth installment Madeline’s Christmas was featured in Mc Calls magazine, to many families it became a seasonal classic. The last adventure created by Bemelmans using his own watercolors and words was discovered by his family after his death and published posthumously in 1999. Regarding the final book about Madeline, it gave away two of the biggest secrets about her that many Madeline enthusiasts had pondered for years, her last name and why she was at a boarding school…she was not an orphan, she came from an intensely wealthy family and her last name Fogg. Madeline has since has become commercialized in contemporary cartoons and in a large budget film, but it is undeniable the palette of Bemelmans’watercolors could bring the viewer into the story so intensely as if reader becomes a spectator of giant splashes into the River Seine or chasing a “bad hat”down the streets of Paris. In his later years, Bemelmans was once asked about how he reflected upon his life time of being an artist he responded “The purpose of art, is to console and amuse —myself, and, I hope, others.” The aforementioned quote maybe the reflection of the essence of Madeline herself. "That's all there is, there isn't any more."
—Barbara Anne Doucette
Barbara Anne Doucette is a mixed media artist and crafter currently living in Western New York.