Karl Bodmer (Swiss, 1809-1893)
The Archer (Sketch for 'Fort Mackenzie')
Pencil signed 'Bodmer' bottom left, pencil on paper
Sheet size: 5 3/4 x 4 1/2 in. (14.6 x 11.4cm)
Executed circa 1832-1841.
Arader Galleries, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Acquired directly from the above in 1987.
Property from a Private Collection, Main Line, Philadelphia.
Although Europeans had scarcely studied America's Native population, the latter increasingly became a focus of scientific study by the early 19th century, as it appeared to embody man in his "natural state," true to Rousseau's philosophical beliefs. Prince Maximilian of Wied-Neuwied, who devoted his entire life to the study of the Natural Sciences sought to record and document America's Native population. A self-taught scholar, he supplemented his readings of scientific publications through on-site observations, later making important contacts with leading mineralogists, geographers and botanists while in the Army. Deeply influenced by the ideals of the Enlightenment, Prince Maximilian also grew fascinated by the New World, and following the research of the great Prussian scholar and scientist Alexander von Humboldt, who had explored South America for five years, he planned an expedition to North America, in order to carefully document and record a declining culture. Maximilian had already traveled to Brazil to record the local fauna and flora, and while there, executed his own paintings and sketches in the field. This time however, he looked for a trained artist who would document the American expedition for him. Ultimately, he chose the young Karl Bodmer, a twenty-three-year-old landscapist from Zurich, who had already made a name for himself by publishing numerous engravings of scenes along the Rhine.
Accompanied by Bodmer, his taxidermist and plant preparator, Maximilian embarked on a twenty-eight-month journey to America on May 7, 1832. The group first arrived in New York, and later followed the course of the Ohio, Mississippi and Missouri Rivers before finally reaching Fort Mackenzie, the westernmost point of their journey. Along the way, they met several indigenous tribes such as the Crees and Assiniboins. It was not until their return trip in the fall of 1833 that they reached Fort Clark, where they spent the winter and developed friendly relationships with the Mandan tribe. Upon their return to Europe in mid-July 1834, Bodmer worked hard to turn all of his paintings and sketches into aquatints. Ultimately, the artist spent four years travelling between Paris, Zurich, and London to supervise the production of fifty-two prints, all published between 1839 and 1841 in the two-volume Travels in the Interior of North America, which still ranks among the most complete and faithful surveys of Native American culture.
The four present drawings (Lots 5-8) were executed as preparatory sketches for two of the most important aquatint compositions Bodmer created, Fort Mackenzie and Bison-Dance of the Mandan Indians (Lots 10 and 11). While all the pencil and graphite sketches were drafted in-situ, Bodmer reworked most of them in his Parisian studio, dressing up French models as Indians, with a view to exhibit the finished products at the Royal Academy. In depicting the bloody battle of August 28, 1833 between the Blackfeet and the Assiniboin, and the joyous celebratory dance of December 1833 that Bodmer witnessed along the Missouri River, the drawings demonstrate a level of expressiveness that had never been seen before. All the figures are shown in motion, with a delicacy that echoes their inherent grace. In doing so, the artist remains true to the Prince's vision of depicting Native tribes with the greatest possible accuracy and respect, devoid of any cultural prejudice.