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 Karl Bodmer  (1809 - 1893)

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Lived/Active: Missouri/Montana / Switzerland/France      Known for: Indian portrait and genre painting-landscape

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Ad Code: 2
Karl Bodmer
from Auction House Records.
Kiasax, A Piegan Blackfeet
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Reisbach, Switzerland, Karl Bodmer is best known for the watercolors he did on on a five-thousand mile trip up the Missouri River in 1833 and 1834 when he accompanied the German prince Maximilian on an exploratory trip of the Far West. Maximilian, Prince of Wied, was a natural historian by avocation, and had come to America to study the unique features of the land and the people. On this trip, Bodmer painted numerous Indian subjects and river scenes, which Maximilian published as engravings and aquatints along with his own observations in a book titled "Travels in the Interior of North America".

His early training was in Paris, and in 1847, he moved to Germany where he painted the lush woods. In 1849, he painted with Francois Millet and others at Barbizon, a small town in France, and his forest interiors won recognition in Paris Salon exhibitions.


Source:
Matthew Baigell, "Dictionary of American Artists"

Biography from Altermann Galleries and Auctioneers, I:
Karl Bodmer
Born: Reisback, Switzerland 1809
Died: Barbizon, France 1893

Very important Swiss explorer, painter, etcher

Bodmer, the tall and handsome student of his uncle Johann Jakob Meyer and of Cornu in Paris, was already at 23 quite experienced in drawing for reproduction, having had German valley views engraved. The stocky middle-aged Prussian prince Maximilian engaged him in 1832 as artist for an exploratory expedition to the American West. During their preparations, which took nine months, the royal scholar Maximilian and the top-hatted Bodmer talked to Titian Peale in Philadelphia, examining the Peale and Seymour paintings from the Long Expedition in 1819. They bought Rindisbacher watercolors from the 1820s, and they viewed Catlin’s paintings of 1830, thus learning from the only major artists to precede them. After side trips into the Alleghenies and to New Orleans, they wintered in New Harmony, Indiana, the home of the artist-naturalist Thomas Say.

They reached St. Louis in March 1833, taking passage on the Fur Company’s steamboat Yellowstone for 1,500 miles in seven weeks to move trade goods to Fort Pierre, South Dakota. Bodmer sketched Indian subjects at every stop, taking a whole day for a single watercolor portrait, doing a detailed pencil drawing of the person and the entire costume. The journey upriver continued on the steamboat Assiniboin to Fort Union, another 500 miles on the Missouri River through North Dakota, and then by keelboat Flora following the Lewis and Clark route of 1805 to Fort McKenzi, a lonely new outpost in Montana within 100 miles of the backbone of the Rockies.

They remained for five weeks, in the midst of 20,000 Blackfeet, beyond where Catlin had gone, Bodmer painting portraits and the party surviving an attack on the fort by a large force of Assiniboin and Cree. Bodmer’s painting of the attack is a major product of the entire trip. Rather than continue into the hostile Rockies, the party returned to Fort Clark, ND for the winter, with Bodmer the last white artist to records the Mandan tribe before the 1837 smallpox epidemic. Bodmer’s wildlife watercolors included a panorama of the great heard of buffalo descending to the river. He continued to make sketches of Indian ceremonies and life-styles that are superb ethnological documentation, even though his frozen colors had to be heated in water. In May 1834, the party reached St. Louis where they again saw Catlin paintings. Via stage, canalboat, and steamer, they went back to New York City and Europe. Bodmer became a resident of Barbizon in the Fontainebleau forest near Paris. He made 81 finished paintings to illustrate the trip, then he completed many of the etching plates. The 1839 full-color edition of the prints is the finest depiction of the Indians of the Missouri frontier. They certainly served as the fieldwork for Indian painters who never left their studios, for example, some Currier & Ives lithographic artists. The other major original artist was Catlin, but there was surprisingly little duplication in exact subject matter and none in style between eager Catlin and disciplined Bodmer.

The Western trip was but a short portion of the career of this important Barbizon painter who worked with Millet and Theodore Rousseau but never again visited America. Bodmer began exhibiting in the Paris Salon in 1836. He illustrated books and magazines and was known for forest landscapes and depictions of birds and mammals. By the time of his death, Bodmer’s Indian engravings were entirely forgotten.

Resource: SAMUELS’ Encyclopedia of ARTISTS of THE AMERICAN WEST,
Peggy and Harold Samuels, 1985, Castle Publishing

Biography from William R Talbot Fine Art:
From 1832 to 1834 Swiss artist Karl Bodmer (1809-1893) accompanied the Prussian naturalist Alexander Philipp Maximilian, Prince of Wied-Neuwied, to America as illustrator on an expedition to the upper Missouri River country. The expedition was an unprecedented scientific endeavor to record in detail the landscape, natural history, and aboriginal life of the American wilderness frontier. Maximilian engaged Bodmer to provide a visual record of his investigations, which were principally focused upon the Plains Indians.  The expedition went as far as Fort McKenzie, Montana, the western-most outpost of the American Fur Company. Soon after their arrival there, Bodmer and Maximilian witnessed a battle between encamped Blackfeet and an attack force of Assiniboin and Cree, involving hundreds of warriors.  Having received reports of other hostilities in the area, it became clear to the travelers that their intention to continue on to the Rocky Mountains was far too dangerous.

In November 1833, after completing the onerous flatboat ride downstream from Fort McKenzie in present-day Montana, Maximilian’s party returned to Fort Clark in North Dakota to spend the winter in the heart of Mandan country. For both the prince and the artist Karl Bodmer, “this was unquestionably the most significant and productive phase of the expedition,” notes William Orr. “Here the German scientist began diligent observations . . . of a tribe which, four years later, was reduced to virtual extinction by smallpox. . . And here the Swiss painter created, in the most trying of circumstances, the most consummate and memorable paintings in an already luminous gallery of Indian portraits.”

Going beyond the precedent set by Thomas McKenney and George Catlin, Bodmer painted the people and places of frontier America with sensitivity to individual character and an accuracy of ethnographic detail that is considered unsurpassed.

Refs.: Graff 4648; Howes M443a; Hunt & Gallagher, Karl Bodmer’s America; Orr, “Portraits of the Plains,” FMR, no. 4, p. 94; Pilling 2521; Ruud, ed., Karl Bodmer’s North American Prints; Sabin 47014; Wagner-Camp 76:1.

Biography from Thomas Nygard Gallery:
KARL BODMER
1809-1893

In 1833, at the age of 24, Swiss-born artist Karl Bodmer traveled 500 miles along the wild and untamed Missouri River with the German anthropologist Prince Maximilian. The small expedition spent an extraordinary year sketching, painting and writing about the daily life and ceremonies of the many diverse Plains Indian Tribes living along the Missouri.

On their return to Europe, the team spent the next few years turning Bodmer's exquisite watercolors and Maximilian's monumental narrative into a portfolio of aquatints and text to be translated into German, French and English. The portfolios were published in two versions, one a beautiful hand-colored set and the other in black and white.

Upon its publication, Europeans had their first real glimpse of the exotic peoples who inhabited the New World. In those images they saw the men and women of such tribes as Manadan, Cree, Sioux, Blackfoot, Minnataree, Assiniboin, and Gros Ventres in their precise tribal dress, in their huts, in battle, hunting buffalo or mourning their dead.

Today, the unprecedented work of Maximilian and Bodmer has become the most important documentation of an aboriginal people who would virtually disappear within a decade, due to alcohol, smallpox and the relentless western migration from the east.

Karl Bodmer's original watercolors are now in the permanent collection of the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, Nebraska.

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at registrar@AskART.com.


Karl Bodmer is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Paris Pre 1900
Western Painters

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