75 years of Madeline

In honor of the 75th anniversary of everyone’s favorite French schoolgirl, Swann’s Art Books specialist Christine von der Linn submitted this post.

A featured item in our inaugural Illustration auction was a Bemelmans watercolor and ink drawing of Madeline, which brought $6,600.

This Saturday, September 6, marks the 75th anniversary of the publication of Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans. Her birthday is being celebrated around the world, but especially here in New York City, where Bemelmans made his home. The New-York Historical Society has a show up through October 19 celebrating Madeline in New York: The Art of Ludwig Bemelmans.

The famous opening lines of the book–and the following books in the series–that introduced the world to the beloved boarding school student began:

In an old house in Paris
That was covered in vines
Lived twelve little girls in two straight lines.

In November 2011, Swann auctioned this 1939 gouache and watercolor of Madeline for  $15,600.

Nearly everyone who read and adored the books can recite the rhyme from memory. An appreciation of the fearless and intrepid little redhead and the impression she left on her readers is what drives people to collect the first editions of the Madeline books and examples of original artwork from them. 

Madeline fans will recall the well known line, “To the Tiger in the Zoo, Madeline Just Said, ‘Pooh-pooh.” A signed lithograph from the book sold for $5,040 in 2008.

This signed lithograph, “They Went Looking High [and Low],” is from Madeline’s Rescue, in which our plucky heroine adopts a dog. It brought $5,280 in April 2008.


“The purpose of art,” Bemelmans wrote, “is to console and amuse – myself, and, I hope, others.”