Ludwig Bemelmans

November 16, 2009


Date of Birth:
April 27, 1898 – October 1, 1962

Place of Birth:
Meran, Austria

Declaring he possessed no imagination, his books were created on the basis of relying heavily on familiarity.2 Probably the most influential person in his life was May Massee, children’s book editor for Viking Press, who urged Bemelmans to pen, and illustrate books after discovering his capabilities.3 His renown character, Madeline, was influenced by watching his daughter Barbara, which gave him many book ideas.4 In addition to his daughter, past experiences in the hospitality and restaurant businesses gave him many creative ideas.

Bemelmans was not a scholar.  He bounced around from different prestigious schools during his childhood.  Thus he had no formal art training, only that his father was somewhat of a painter, and he took art lessons when he was young.5

Works of Note:

The illustrator is primarily known for a collection of books about a character named Madeline.  He accomplished 15 children’s books in his career, which was approximately a book or two every year!6 The illustrator also wrote fiction books for adolescents, however went slightly unnoticed due to his fame and fortune writing story books for kids. Bemelmans’ illustrations graced the covers of many New Yorker magazines, and comprised other clients such as Vogue, Town and Country, Fortune, Harper’s Bazaar, and McCall’s.7 Murals painted in New York’s Carlyle Hotel is the only surviving commission piece open to the public.8 Bemelmans was first published in 1939 for the original Madeline book which was named a Caldecott Honor Book; Madeline’s Rescue, also received a Caldecott Medal.9

Illustrator Miscellany:

As stated, Bemelmans drew inspirations from past careers.  He fell into the hotel business by apprenticing his uncle in Austria due to his lack of success in schools.10 Legend has it that during a dispute, Bemelmans shot and nearly killed a fellow co-worker.  Bemelmans had to choose between immigrating to America, or attending a reform school as punishment.11 He wound up in the big apple of New York City, and continued his career in hospitality until he enlisted in the U.S. Army.12 In 1918 he became an American citizen, and was persuaded to start a new field.13

Examination of Materials:

His work was created with ink and watercolor using quick, confident, and bold mark making.  Possibly using a dry brush technique would accomplish the overall textural feel to his artwork.

Style Analysis
Insert Style Image

As a whole, his body of work has the characteristic of being slightly impressionistic.  Stylization occurs within his paintings without abstracting shapes, making the mood of the work energetic and fun.

Bemelmans used a limited yet vibrant color palette, which was clever, because it would help a child to focus on characters, rather than a distracting background.  It would become apparent that the illustrator was communicating the life of his characters using subtle backgrounds and details to enhance, and clarify situations in the story.  In this particular piece, he has the characters’ backs facing the audience, however one character is looking over her shoulder directly at the viewer.  This should intrigue the viewer in wanting to learn about this character, their personality, and experiences.

I feel Bemelmans was such a successful illustrator and author of children’s books, because he could relate to them through words and pictures.  His style feels naïve, playful and sensitive, all which contribute to a child like personality.  He knew to respect his audience, and to personify children as having smarts about them, “We are writing for children, but not for idiots.” 14

– Molly Wilson, Spring 2009



  1. “Madeline,”, accessed October 20, 2009.
  2. Roger Miller, “Ludwig Bemelmans,” Arlington National Cemetery,
  3. “The Author : Ludwig Bemelmans,”, accessed October 20, 2009.
  5. Miller, Ludwig Bemelmans
  7. Ibid
  8. Ibid
  9. “History of Madeline,”, accessed October 20, 2009
  11. Ibid
  12. Miller, Ludwig Bemelmans
  13. Ibid

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