Faces from the Interior: The North American Portraits of Karl Bodmer

  • October 10, 2021 21:07

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Karl Bodmer (1809 – 1893), Hotokáneheh, Piegan Blackfoot Man , 1833, watercolor and graphite on paper, 11 15/16 × 17 1/16 in., Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, Nebraska, Gift of the Enron Art Foundation, 1986.49.288. Photograph © Bruce M. White, 2019
Karl Bodmer (Swiss, 1809 – 1893), Interior of a Mandan Earth Lodge, 1833 – 34 , watercolor a nd graphite on paper, 11 7/16 in. × 17 in. , Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, Nebraska, Gift of the Enron Art Foundation, 1986.49.261.A . Photograph © Bruce M. White, 2019
Karl Bodmer (Swiss, 1809 – 1893), Assiniboine and Siksika Blackfoot Girl, 1833, watercolor and graphite on paper, 10 5/8 x 8 in. , Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, Nebraska, Gift of the Enron Art Foundation, 1986.49.378 . Photograph © Bruce M. White, 2019
Karl Bodmer (Swiss, 1809 – 1893), Péhriska - Rúhpa, Hidatsa Man, 1834, watercolor and graphite on paper, 17 1/8 x 11 15/16 in., Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, Nebraska, Gift of the Enron Art Foundation, 1986.49.275. Ph otograph © Bruce M. White, 2019
Karl Bodmer (Swiss, 1809 – 1893) , Upsicht ä , Mandan Man, ́ 1834 , watercolor and graphite on paper 12 5/8 × 10 in ., Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, Nebraska, Gift of the Enron Art Foundation, 1986.49.263 . Photograph © Bruce M. White, 2019
Karl Bodmer (Swiss, 1 809 – 1893) , Cree Woman, 1833, watercolor and graphite on paper, 11 7/8 × 9 3/4 in ., Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, Nebraska, Gift of the Enron Art Foundation, 1986.49.231 . Photograph © Bruce M. White, 2019
Karl Bodmer (Swiss, 1809 – 1893), Chan - Chä - Uiá - Te - Üinn, Lakota Sioux Woman, 1833, watercolor and graphite on paper, 17 1/8 × 11 7/8 in., Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, Nebraska, Gift of the Enron Art F oundation, 1986.49.246. Photograph © Bruce M. White, 2019

After premiering at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in April, an exhibition of Karl Bodmer's portraits of Indigenous people has arrived at the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, and then will continue on to the Amon Carter Museum of American Art (Fort Worth, TX.) in fall 2022.

During the early  1830s, a dynamic network of Native American nations—largely unknown to non-Native people beyond  trappers and traders—inhabited the Upper Plains region of North America. The Swiss draftsman Karl Bodmer (1809— 1893) was one of the first European artist—observers to create a visual record of these communities‘ leaders, lifeways, and homelands.  

Hired by the German naturalist Maximilian, Prince of Wied-Neuwied, Bodmer accompanied a scientific expedition from Saint Louis to the northwestern  reaches of the Missouri River, a round trip of nearly five thousand miles, between April 1833 and May  1834. Intending  to reveal what Maximilian called “the natural face of North America," Bodmer produced 
numerous portraits of Indigenous people that record the lives of specific individuals.  They also evidence  the complexity  of cultural encounters at a time when Euro-American  settler colonization introduced disease, depleted natural resources, and led to the forcible removal of Indigenous people from their homelands.

Faces from the Interior: The North American Portraits of Karl Bodmer, on view now through May 1, 2022 at Joslyn (and in a virtual tour), features over sixty recently conserved  watercolors, drawn entirely from Joslyn's renowned Maximilian-Bodmer collection. This includes portraits of individuals from the Omaha, Ponca, Yankton, Lakota, Mandan, Hidatsa, Assiniboine, and Blackfoot nations, among the many encountered by the travelers. A selection of Bodmer‘s Missouri River landscapes and field sketches, as well as portraits made by the Mandan man Sih—Chida  (Yellow Feather) and prominent  Mandan chief 
Mato- Tope (Four Bears), reveal the dynamic cultural exchanges that characterized  artistic production of this era.

Bodmer‘s acute sensitivity of observation and his subtle, refined brush work provide an unparalleled  level of detail that make these   portraits particularly captivating. These details matter; every beaded design, carefully arranged  feather, and painted robe carries meaning and tells a story. Indigenous knowledge bearers, artists, and scholars from the nations 
that Bodmer and Maximilian visited have contributed texts for this exhibition that highlight the diverse histories, beliefs, and practices embodied in the portraits.

Faces from the Interior additionally premieres four short films—contemporary portraits that testify to the enduring power of Bodmer‘s images. Personal stories shared in these films illuminate generations of Indigenous teachings that bridge historical and contemporary featherwork and beadwork, dancing, tribal histories, and traditional ecological knowledge. 

An exhibition catalogue is available.


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