Old Favorites: Salon Style and Madeline at the New-York Historical Society

NEW YORK—July brings a bad-news-good-news moment from the New-York Historical Society.

The city’s oldest museum has been reshuffling its art in preparation for the renovation of its Henry Luce III Center, where the permanent collection usually resides. The entire fourth floor will be off-limits from July 6 to the end of December 2016—a long time.

That was the bad news. Here’s the good news: Curators and the society’s new director Brian Allen managed to display a great number of paintings from the permanent collection by hanging them Salon Style in Dexter Hall. 

To hang a gallery Salon Style means to stack paintings floor to ceiling to emphasize the diversity of a collection. It was popular practice in European royal courts because it made showing off easy. Private art clubs used the method to save space. 

Visitors will see many of the best American paintings pre-1930 in this installation. Most works have a historical tie, and none are labeled, so you’ll be able to test your knowledge of American history and art history against a printed list of the pieces.

The range captures the nation’s founding and evolution, from portraits of influential colonists, to the settling of the American West, through the Civil War, the Industrial era, all the way up to the roaring ’20s. 

It’s a lot to take in. Just be careful not to back up all the way to the other wall when doing so. 

Childhood Nostalgia

For the school children on summer break, Madeline in New York just opened over the Independence Day weekend.

It’s little known that the spunky French schoolgirl from the children’s book has her origins in New York (hence its inclusion at the New-York Historical Society). Over 75 years ago, European transplant Ludwig Bemelmans wrote the first lines of “Madeline” at Pete’s Tavern in Gramercy Park.

Bemelmans was considered a poor student in his native Germany, but in actuality, he was like many other children who were talented in ways that the establishment did not acknowledge. Bemelmans let his unconventional talent shine through Madeline. 

The exhibition features more than 90 original oil and watercolor drawings, not only from the six Madeline books, but also comic strips starring Noodles the trained seal, and other children’s books like Noodle the dachshund who overcomes his body image issues. 

On a plush blue couch in the center of the exhibition space, visitors get to take their time perusing a nice selection of Bemelman books. 

It’s a treat to compare the printed illustrations with the bright colors and deft, playful lines of the original work, as well as be introduced to evidence of Bemelmans’s scrappy days as a busboy at the Ritz, followed by the days of drawing Jell-O ads owned then by General Foods Corporation so he could pay the bills. 

The Works: Salon Style at the New-York Historical Society
Through Feb. 8, 2015

Madeline in New York: The Art of Ludwig Bemelmans
Through Oct. 19, 2014

New-York Historical Society 
Admission: $6–$18