Artist Charles Bodmer Painter of the West, Bison,Indians

Last known sketch of Karl Bodmer


Note on sources.

I have relied heavily on the book Across the Wide Missouri by Bernard DeVoto and the Wikipedia article on Karl Bodmer. Pictures are from Wikimedia and public domain in the U.S. unless otherwise noted. There is not room here for all the pictures in Wikimedia. Some of the pictures I would like to include are not readily available.


 Charles Bodmer, a Swiss artist, was hired by German explorer Maximillian Zu Wied-Neuweird during the years 1832 through 1834 to travel with him through the American West and record images of the different tribes along the way.The explorer known as Prince Max, a German aristocrat provided the opportunity that became the turning point of Bodmer’s life.

Bodmer took the name of Charles but has used both names. His uncle Jacob Meir was an artist and became his mentor. Charles and his brother Rudolph did artistic tours around Switzerland.

He was hired by Prince Max as an illustrator to record scientific information. So much of his work is with that in mind rather than esthetics. The Prince was a scientist and he wanted the painter for exclusively scientific reasons. He wrote a book Reise in das innere Nord- Amerika in den Jahren An English translation was published in 1843. It is a landmark study of America and contributed much to the understanding of the Plains Indians. A large part of its significance is because of Bodmer’s illustrations.


Great Traveler Charles Alexander Le Seu

 The Great Traveller Charles Alexandre Lesueur in the Forest
The Great Traveller Charles Alexandre Lesueur in the Forest | Source

More than a skilled illustrator

According to  DeVoto’s book Bodmer was a suburb draftsman, with sharp, minute, exquisite and laborious detail. His figure studies are better than Catlin’s as documents and artistically their equal. They were painted to portray costume and ornamentation and are much better than Catlin’s. Details of clothing he painted with photographic exactness. In fact, she says, they are presented better than a photograph. They have the focus and selectivity of medical art

He did have defects. His buffalo are no better than Catlin’s and often not as good. His work reflects the scientific purpose with some stiffness. Some of his work was careless and he would sometime invent what was not clear at hand. Bodmer was excellent at landscapes and had the talent, technique and imagination to interpret the new country. According to DeVoto.” If Caitlin has the priority of having first painted the West, Bodmer was the first artist who did it justice.”

Capture of the Daughters of D.Boone and Callaway by Indians


Forest Scene


Indians hunting bison

Challenges of western landscape

The Far Western landscape the artist had a vaster space and more intensity of light to deal with than other artists had. It wasn’t until the 29th Century that desert light could really be captured on canvas. His subject matter was the upper Missouri badlands and prairies. There is aching desolation in .” Fort Clark On the Missouri,” Human figures are point like in the vast, barren scene which is even more oppressive with snow, Ice, and winter sky. . Bodmer has rendered the Bad Lands, the writhen bluffs of the badlands, the architecture of water and sculpture of wind. He saw and recorded the inconceivable shapes and unimaginable colors which made the country both nightmarish and dreamlike. These landscapes have subtlety and color beyond all his others. DeVoto sees a quality of awe and wonder that means an inner response, which might very well have been against his will.


The majority of his original watercolors are located in three collections in the United States. Most of them are in the Joslyn Art Museum in Omah, Nebraska. “They are recognized as the most painstakingly accurate painted images ever made of Native Americans, their culture and artifacts, and of the scenery of the pristine ‘Old west’”

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Comments 22 comments

Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 6 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY

I wasn't familiar with Charles Bodmer. Thanks for the information. I'll have to investigate his work further.

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Thanks for visiting and commenting.I only ran across these artist recently but thought they were important.

Tom Whitworth profile image

Tom Whitworth 6 years ago from Moundsville, WV


Thank you for intoducing me to Bodmer. His art is very indicative of western scenes I've imagined!!!!!!!!!!!!

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Thank you for reading and commenting.I think these artist are the ones that created our ideas of the west.

Storytellersrus profile image

Storytellersrus 6 years ago from Stepping past clutter

Very interesting, and look at YOU- 100 rated and only 106 hubs! You go, da!!!

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

I don't really know haw that happened. I wish my traffic were as good. Thanks for the comment and the positive words.

twentyfive profile image

twentyfive 6 years ago

Interesting painter of the 19 century.I like his style and technique, very unique but the emotion is there. Voted up ;)

kimh039 profile image

kimh039 6 years ago

I like the description, "They have the focus and selectivity of medical art." I never really thought about how we got the pictures of historical times. I guess it's a good thing there were artists, or how would we know?! Thanks for sharing about an unusual topic, dahoglund.

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

I appreciate your commenting. So much of Indian life ould be lost if it had not been documented somehow,

Coolmon2009 profile image

Coolmon2009 6 years ago from Texas, USA

Once again, thanks for this introduction to yet another artist. Good article

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Thanks for your comment. I'm glad there is interest these artists.

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author


Sorry I didn't answer your comment sooner.I'm glad you liked the hub. Thanks for your comment.

Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

Thanks for introducing me to the artist Charles Bodmer. It IS good that the artists rendered their interpretation of what the West used to be so that we can enjoy those distant days from our past even today. Enjoyed this!

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Peggy W,

Glad you enjoyed this.I have two more artists to add to this series.Thanks for commenting.

ahorseback profile image

ahorseback 6 years ago

Great hub! and info , I like your hubs , being a history buff. Painters and drawings were a part of most explorations , That was , of course , the only form of illustrating for there were no cameras. John Wesley powel took different painters with him too. As did many. I vote this up.

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Thanks for the comments and additional information.

Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

I have never heard of Charles Bodmer, but sure enjoyed reading about him in your interesting hub. I would love to have "Great Traveler Charles Alexander Le Seu" hanging on my wall. It is such a pleasing image. I am so glad I found this hub. Thank you for writing it and featuring the paintings.

ladyguitarpicker profile image

ladyguitarpicker 2 years ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

Hi, I don't know this artist but I like his work. My friend painted me beautiful paintings of the Indians. Loved the Hub. Stella

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 2 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Hi Phyllis. Thank you for reading the hub and commenting. These early artists have helped give us a look at what things looked like at one tiem.

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 2 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Hi Stella, Thanks for reading the hub. I think Bodmer and other early artists are worthy of preservation.

Bruce 17 months ago

You aptly credit perhaps but nonetheless liberally incorporate Bernard DeVoto's seminal text, Across the Wide Missouri (1947) into your narrative. I invite folks serious about Bodmer's as well as other, early artistic renderings of the American West to find & read DeVoto's excellent work.

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 17 months ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Bruce, thank you for commenting. Yes, as noted in my "notes on sources" I got much information from DeVoto, as well as Wikipedia.

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