Sunday, December 28, 2014

Karl Bodmer

Landscape with buffalo on the upper Missouri
watercolor on paper
24x32 cm
location unknown

Karl Bodmer (1809-1893) was a Swiss-French painter, draughtsman, illustrator and graphic artist. He was born in Riesbach, Switzerland, and his real name was Johann Carl Bodmer. He was a pupil of his uncle Johann Jakob Meier, a well known landscape painter and engraver in Zurich. He produced one of the most important and beautiful 19th century records of the American West.

In 1832 he travelled as a scientific draughtsman together with Prince Maximilian zu Wied-Neuwied to North America. He was commissioned to make detailed illustrations of the life, habits, and customs of the Indians. He is known for his careful observation and attention to detail. Unlike some other artists in the American West he tried not to romanticize his subjects but show them as they really were.

The expedition took 28 months and brought them to the regions of North America, west of the Mississippi River, where the Indian tribes lived. In many impressive watercolour paintings he documented the landscape, plants and animals, but especially the Native Americans of North America at that time. He made more than 400 sketches and watercolour paintings, which he brought back to Germany in 1834. These paintings are recognized as among the most painstakingly accurate painted images ever made of Native Americans, their culture and artefacts. Today the majority of his original watercolours are located in three collections in the United States, at the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, Nebraska, the Newberry Library Bodmer Collection in Chicago, and the Baltimore Museum of Art.

In 1835 he moved to Paris. From there he supervised the production of the illustrations for the travel book  “Reise in das innere Nord-America in den Jahren 1832 bis 1834” wrote by Maximilian Prince of Wied-Neuwied (Maximilian Prince of Wied’s Travels in the Interior of North America). From his watercolour paintings, he brought from the journey, the Prince had chosen 81 to be published as aquatints together with his book in a separate atlas.

From 1848/49 he mainly lived in Barbizon. He became a French citizen and an influential member of the Barbizon school of painters. He lived and worked together with such famous artist like Peter Burnitz, Theodore Rousseau and Jean-Francois Millet. Together with Millet he created lithographs on American history, commissioned by an American citizen from St. Louis. In 1876 he became a Knight (Chevalier) of the “National Order of the Legion of Honour”.