Hilary Knight discusses the original Plaza Hotel portrait of Eloise

THE ORIGINAL, IRREPRESSIBLE ELOISE, ONCE LOST AND NOW REDISCOVERED. Toting a history as lively as its inspiration, this portrait was painted as a birthday gift by Hilary Knight for Eloise co-creator Kay Thompson in 1956, on the eve of Kay's appearance on Edward R. Murrow's Person To Person on CBS, where she proudly displayed the painting to guest host Jerry Lewis. Shortly thereafter, she loaned the work to the Plaza Hotel where it hung ceremoniously in the lobby as an homage to their most famous (imaginary) resident. However, on the night of a Junior League Ball at the the Plaza, November 1960, it disappeared. As Mr. Knight tells the story, "Kay called me, 'Drunken debutantes did it!' And soon it was all over the news, in the columns, and Walter Cronkite confirmed it on the evening news." The famed portrait of Eloise had been stolen. Despite the press and the hubbub, the portrait failed to reappear. Some years later, Mr. Knight received a call: "The painting had been found in a dumpster, frameless." Once identified as the missing artwork, it was returned to Mr. Knight, who had already replaced the Plaza portrait with a new one: an oil painting that still hangs there today. Mr. Knight rolled up the original and put it in his closet where it languished for the next 50 years.

In preparation for a show at the New York Historical Society dedicated to his work, Mr. Knight and curator Jane Curley began sorting through his art. When Mr. Knight mentioned the existence of the portrait, the two hunted through his closets and located the lost portrait. A bit the worse for wear after its fascinating journey, it was expertly flattened, remounted and revived, and then hung at the centrepiece of the NYHS exhibition, "Eloise at the Museum." In preparation for its sale here, Mr. Knight finished the restoration himself, returning the storied portrait as closely as possible to the state in which it hung at the Plaza all those years ago.

Eloise appeared in 1955 to little fanfare, but when Life Magazine ran a picture spread, the book began to find its audience as a children's book, eventually capturing the hearts and imaginations of over a million children across the world. Perhaps more than any other 20th century children's book, Eloise has inspired generations of young women who have been captivated by her independence and irrepressible spirit. As Jane Curley explains, "She landed at the Plaza in 1955 in the midst of the staid Eisenhower era, when role models for women were [traditional stay-at-home moms] June Cleaver and Donna Reed. And all of a sudden here's this wild irrepressible six-year-old rushing around barging into things, getting into trouble. And she struck a chord." Eloise has become the patron saint of generations of strong, curious, determined (and maybe a bit mischievous) women, from Fran Lebowitz to Lena Dunham.

This portrait captures that irrepressible spirit of one of the most influential children's book characters in history, whose newly minted fans still sojourn to the Plaza for tea.

Sold with: photo of Evelyn Rudie, standing in front of the Eloise portrait as hung at the Plaza, signed and inscribed to Hilary Knight.