Karl Bodmer


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Painter, draftsman, and printmaker. Although he spent only two years in the United States and its territories, Bodmer's depictions of Western Indians and landscape contributed significantly to American art history. Born in Riesbach, near Zurich, he received his early training in Switzerland and then studied in Paris. In 1832 he was engaged by German scientist and explorer Prince Maximilian of Wied-Neuwied as expedition artist to prepare illustrations for a book about the American West. After landing in Boston in July 1832, the party visited East Coast sites before traveling to New Harmony, Indiana, for the winter. From St. Louis, following George Catlin's route of the previous year, they departed in April 1833 to journey up the Missouri River into territorial Montana, farther than Catlin had gone. Before winter set in, they returned only as far as what is now North Dakota. In 1834 they continued back to St. Louis and then to Europe. Bodmer ranked as the best-trained artist to visit the American West in the early nineteenth century. Precisely detailed, skillfully composed, and beautifully colored, his images reflect the wonder and curiosity with which he and Maximilian saw the land and peoples they studied. Bodmer's drawings and paintings, mostly in watercolor, served as the basis for more than eighty hand-colored aquatints he prepared in Paris for an atlas to supplement Maximilian's two-volume German publication, Reise in das innere Nord-America in den Jahren 1832 bis 1834 (1839–41). The trilingual atlas also accompanied French and English editions. (The single-volume Travels in the Interior of North America appeared in 1843). Maximilian's writings and Bodmer's art together provide a comprehensive and scholarly record of the region they explored. Around 1850, Bodmer settled at Barbizon to paint and etch landscapes, animals, and other scenes. He returned to Paris a few years before his death there.

Subjects: Art.

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