Who was Karl Bodmer?

Who was Karl Bodmer?

Born in Switzerland, Bodmer’s introduction to artistic exploration can be attributed to his uncle Johann Jakob Meier – a prominent engraver. At the age of 13, Meier began teaching Bodmer, taking him on artistic expeditions through Switzerland.

Prince Maximilian of Wied-Neuwied

In early adulthood, Bodmer left Switzerland to begin working as a painter and engraver in Germany. It was here that he was spotted by the German aristocrat and explorer Prince Maximilian of Wied-Neuwied.

Heritage Prints Bodmer tbl 04 The Steamer Yellow-stone on the 19th April 1833 (color)
The Steamer Yellow-stone on the 19th April 1833 (color)

Maximilian was planning an expedition across the American West and asked Bodmer to join him as the expedition’s official artist.

Travels in the Interior of North America

In 1833 Bodmer began the 2,500-mile journey, accompanying Maximilian along the Missouri River. They began in St. Louis and travelling by steamboat and keelboat they made their way to Fort McKenzie (close to the present-day Fort Benton in Montana).

Bodmer’s role during the expedition was to record the sites encountered during the journey including the landscapes and people, and in particular the tribes of Native Americans who lived along the Missouri River.

Heritage Prints Bodmer vgt 13 Crow Indians
Crow Indians (black and white giclee)

After spending the winter at Fort Clark, the expedition party made the return journey, after more than a year exploring the Upper Missouri. Bodmer had created numerous black and white illustrations during the trip while Maximilian had detailed notes for the book that would later become the renowned Travels in the Interior of North America.

Heritage Prints Bodmer vgt 29 Dog Sledges of the Mandan Indians (color)
Dog Sledges of the Mandan Indians (color)

The 81 aquatints of Karl Bodmer

Following their epic journey, Bodmer and Maximilian travelled to Germany and then France where 81 of Bodmer’s paintings from the expedition were reproduced as aquatints. Maximilian included these in his book which was first published in German in 1840 and later in English.

Bodmer made France his home and was made a French citizen. He continued to paint and joined the Barbizon School; an association of painters who specialise in landscapes and artwork featuring animals.