The Lewis and Clark Expedition

Discovering the American West

About Karl Bodmer

Many of the illustrations of Indian life and the American West in this exhibit were made to accompany Prince Maximilian of Wied’s account of his travels in the United States in 1832-34, up the Missouri, in the tracks of the earlier expedition by Lewis and Clark.  Maximilian’s book Travels in the Interior of North America was first published in three volumes in German (issued in parts between 1839 and 1843), then published in French (in 1840-43), and finally in English (a translation of volumes 1 and 2 only) in 1843.  Largely because of Bodmer’s illustrations, the work is widely regarded as "the most Celebrated Book on Indian Life and the American Frontier." 

The illustrator was a previously little-known Swiss artist, Karl Bodmer (1809-1893), who traveled with Maximilian, making both quick sketches and (during a prolonged stay at Fort Clark in the winter of 1833-34) more elaborate paintings.  On Bodmer’s return to Europe, he (and other artists) used his sketches as the basis for the series of 81 illustrations commissioned by Maximilian.

The aquatint engravings prepared from the paintings in Paris were issued in small groups, both hand-colored and uncolored, on different grades of paper, over several years.  The original German issue in 1839-43 comprised 355 sets, more than half uncolored. The 81 illustrations are numbered in two sequences, as plates (Tableaux, to be bound as a separate volume) and smaller Vignettes (intended to be bound in with the text); the captions are given in three languages, to allow the same plates to be used with all three editions. 

The library’s set (London: Ackerman, 1843-44) was originally purchased in the 1840's for $150 and now lacks a few of the plates.  For conservation and display purposes, some years ago both the plates and vignettes were disbound, matted and framed.


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