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
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
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’”
- George Catlin: paintings of the Plains Indians
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