Ludwig Bemelmans, Austro-American essayist, humorist, novelist, artist, and author of books for children, was born in Meran, in the Tyrol, in territory that was then Austrian and is now Italian. When he was eight his parents divorced (his father had been a painter of somewhat irregular habits) and his mother took him to live with her family in Regensburg, Germany. A rebellious child, he was enrolled in various schools and private academies and failed at most of them. Not knowing what else to do with him, his family apprenticed him in 1912 to an uncle who owned a number of hotels in the Tyrol. For the next two years he worked at, and was dismissed from, most of these establishments. After supposedly shooting and almost killing a waiter he was given a choice: reform school or emigration to America. He chose the latter and in 1914 arrived in New York with letters of introduction to managers of several large hotels. He enlisted in the army in 1917, but returned to the hotel and restaurant business in New York the following year. Eventually he opened his own restaurant and it was only in 1934 that he turned to writing. A friend in publishing noticed the whimsical paintings with which he covered the walls of his apartment and urged him to undertake a children's book.
Hansi, the first of Bemelmans' fifteen books for children, beguiled most reviewers with its simple watercolor illustrations and nostalgic story of two children and their dog in the Austrian Tyrol. His greatest success, however, was Madeline, a rhymed picture book about a Parisian schoolgirl. Indeed, the Madeline books, of which there were five, remain the work that Bemelmans is primarily remembered for. The inspired amateurishness of the illustrations and the sophisticated doggerel verses have been an influence on later juvenile literature.
Along with his children's books, Bemelmans wrote several novels and books for adults. He claimed to have no imagination, and all his books were the more or less a direct product of his experience. He was a genial satirist and lover of life, but a serious intent often underlay his humor, especially in his novels. From the time of his marriage to Madeline Freund in 1935 (they had one daughter, Barbara) until his death in New York of pancreatic cancer, Bemelmans traveled, painted, dined in the elegant restaurants that he loved, and generally wrote a book or two a year. He was a contributor to Town and Country, Horizon, and the New Yorker, for the last of which he did many cover illustrations. In later years Bemelmans considered himself a painter first and a writer second, and his work was shown in several New York galleries.
"Bemelmans writes of his extraordinary adventures with a child's eye, a lyric detachment and a certain naive curiosity that appropriately accompanies his personal story. His book is unconventional but wiser than his light mood suggests at first sight."
"[His book is] satire which manages to be not only brashly funny but a subtle statement about human behavior in its more futile aspects."
"[He is] a superb craftsman with a sure eye for atmospheric detail and a supremely accurate ear for the speech of Adult Innocents madly in love with the unattainable. . .He was a complete original, with an absolutely unique temperament and view toward the world."
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