Sunday, August 06, 2006

The Bodmer Series on Native America

The Interior of a Hut of a Mandan Chief

Winter Village of the Minatarres

Indian Utensils and Arms

Fort Mackenzie August 28th 1833

(More) Indian Utensils and Arms

Encampment of the Piekann Indians

Facsimile of an Indian Painting

Bison Dance of the Mandan Indians

Karl Bodmer (1809-1893) was a Swiss artist hired by the German naturalist Prince Maximilian zu Wied-Neuwied to travel with him on an expedition across the American west and up the Missouri river.

Prince Maximilian wanted "to bring along a draftsman who [..] must be a landscape painter but also be able to depict figures correctly and accurately, especially the Indians."

It seems the Prince was satisfied from the outset: "He is a lively, very good man and companion, seems well educated and is very pleasant and suitable for me; I am glad I picked him. He makes no demands and in diligence, he is never lacking."

And even moreso with hindsight: "If I could only show you, my dear [brother] August, Mr. Bodmer's portfolio. How many times you would exclaim: 'Oh, excellent! Beautiful! Beautiful!' "

Their travels took place between 1832 and 1834 and over the following years Bodmer personally directed the creation of about 80 aquatint plates that would accompany the Prince's commentary. 'Travels in the Interior of North America' was published in Europe in various formats between 1839 and 1843.

It was not until after WWII that the complete body of work produced by Bodmer during the American journey was discovered. Hundreds of sketches and watercolour paintings were purchased from Prince Maximilian's descendents and the majority are now housed at the Joslyn Gallery in Nebraska.
"The significance of Bodmer's illustrations cannot be overemphasized. Few explorers had ever engaged professional artists to document their journeys. Maximilian insisted that the European-trained Bodmer paint with strict attention to detail. The resulting watercolors, upon which the published aquatints were based, had a photographic accuracy that was unequaled and which have subsequently proved invaluable to historians and ethnologists. For over one-hundred-fifty years Bodmer's aquatints have remained the major source of information regarding Plains Indian culture."

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