Ludwig Bemelmans' Paintings Offer Unique Glimpse Into The World Of 'Madeline'

Since the first book’s publication in 1939, the name “Madeline” has become practically synonymous with a certain red-headed, brave-hearted schoolgirl who lived in an old house in Paris all covered in vines.

Lot 26, Ludwig Bemelmans, "But in London There’s A Place to Get A Retired Horse To Keep as a Pet," from Madeline in London (Published 1961). Original gouache and ink drawing on board, signed "Bemelmans" in black ink, (30 x 21 in.; 763 x 533mm), c. 1960–61). Glazed and framed (not examined out of frame). Est. $30,000/50,000

The Madeline books, written and illustrated by Austrian-American author Ludwig Bemelmans, number among the most beloved children’s classics, in large part because of their spunky little heroine. “She was not afraid of mice — / She loved winter, snow, and ice,” we learn. Hardcore.

Bemelmans’ charming, color-saturated illustrations undeniably set the books apart, however. In slanting, inky lines and bold red-yellow-and-blue, Madeleine and her comrades stamp themselves firmly in our mind’s eye. Bemelmans’ art conjures a childlike, fairy tale world, where being different makes a little girl special and celebrated, and where the world seems eternally colorful and full of promise.

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Lot 27, Ludwig Bemelmans, "These Birds Have Seen All This Before," from Madeline in London (Published 1961). Original gouache and ink drawing, signed "Bemelmans" in black ink, (23 1/4 x 36 in.; 591 x 914mm), c. 1960–61), with faint inked oval stamp in the lower margin reading "Bemelmans/Madeline." Glazed and framed (not examined out of frame). Est. $30,000/50,000

In a few lush original Madeline artworks, on auction at Sotheby’s New York this month, Bemelmans’ gifts are on full display in two studies for Madeline in London and a Parisian street scene from the same period. The familiar hat-bedecked girls are out and about, in two straight lines, framed by arresting sketches of flamingos, red-clad horsemen and imposing castles.

And as usual, the smallest one is Madeline.

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Lot 29, Ludwig Bemelmans, "Parisian Street Scene with Madeline, Miss Clavel, and Pupils," (Late 1950’s –early 1960’s). Original gouache and ink drawing on paper, signed "Bemelmans" in black ink, (23 1/2 x 17 1/4 in.; 597 x 438mm), c. late 1950's–early 1960's. Matted, glazed and framed. Est. $25,000/35,000

The Madeline sale will take place during Sotheby’s Fine Books and Manuscripts auction on June 19.