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  Karl Bodmer. Tableau 24: “Abdih [Addíh]-Hiddisch. A Minatarre Chief”.  
Karl Bodmer, Abdih [Addih]-Hiddisch

Karl Bodmer. Tableau 24: “Abdih [Addíh]-Hiddisch. A Minatarre Chief” (Coblenz: J. Hölscher; London: Ackermann & Co.; Paris: Arthus Bertrand, éditeur, Imp. De Bougeard, Rollet, sculp. [1839–1840]). First edition, first state with blind stamp below text: C. Bodmer, Direc.t Aquatint, etching, roulette. Image: 16 x 11 1/2." Plate mark: 20 1/8 x 14 3/8" at plate mark. Sheet: 24 5/8 x 18" with full margins. Crisp and strong impression; image has light, even age toning; some toning from existing mat; taped top and bottom to existing mat; diagonal crease affecting text only, l.r.; 1 1/2" rubbed area, u.r. Otherwise excellent condition, with superb detail.

“The chief wears a European hat topped with a coup feather, and a peace medal as a symbol of his political status. . . the knoblike painted symbols may stand for the many horses he captured and gave away as presents. The Thunderbird once appeared to him in a vision, promising battle success . . . The scalp and scalp lock attached to his war hatchet are among several such trophies taken by him and his followers.”
—Hunt & Gallagher

From 1832 to 1834 Swiss artist Karl Bodmer (1809-1893) accompanied the Prussian naturalist Alexander Philipp Maximilian, Prince of Wied-Neuwied, to America as illustrator on an expedition to the upper Missouri River country. The expedition was an unprecedented scientific endeavor to record in detail the landscape, natural history, and aboriginal life of the American wilderness frontier. Maximilian engaged Bodmer to provide a visual record of his investigations, which were principally focused upon the Plains Indians. The expedition went as far as Fort McKenzie, Montana, the western-most outpost of the American Fur Company. Soon after their arrival there, Bodmer and Maximilian witnessed a battle between encamped Blackfeet and an attack force of Assiniboin and Cree, involving hundreds of warriors. Having received reports of other hostilities in the area, it became clear to the travelers that their intention to continue on to the Rocky Mountains was far too dangerous.

In November 1833, after completing the onerous flatboat ride downstream from Fort McKenzie in present-day Montana, Maximilian’s party returned to Fort Clark in North Dakota to spend the winter in the heart of Mandan country. For both the prince and the artist Karl Bodmer, “this was unquestionably the most significant and productive phase of the expedition,” notes William Orr. “Here the German scientist began diligent observations . . . of a tribe which, four years later, was reduced to virtual extinction by smallpox. . . And here the Swiss painter created, in the most trying of circumstances, the most consummate and memorable paintings in an already luminous gallery of Indian portraits.

Addíh-Híddisch, chief of the Hidatsa (called Minatarre by the Mandan), frequently visited Maximilian and Bodmer’s cabin at Fort Clark during the winter of 1833–34. Maximilian wrote that Addíh-Híddisch sat for Bodmer for three days on March 26–28, 1834, attesting to the intensity with which the artist studied his subject. The resulting image is ethnographically amazing and exhibits a breathtaking level of detail. Among the chief’s most interesting features were his tattoos, occurring, as Maximilian wrote, “not only on the chest, arms, and hands with blue-black traverse stripes, but his entire legs . . . also.” Bodmer’s skill at capturing the individual personalities of his subjects is apparent here, as is his technical virtuosity and that of the engraver Réne Rollet, whose facility at rendering textures of clothing and the physical features is remarkable.

Going beyond the precedent set by Thomas McKenney and George Catlin, Bodmer painted the people and places of frontier America with sensitivity to individual character and an accuracy of ethnographic detail that is considered unsurpassed.

Refs.: Graff 4648; Howes M443a; Hunt & Gallagher, Karl Bodmer’s America; Orr, “Portraits of the Plains,” FMR, no. 4, p. 94; Pilling 2521; Ruud, ed., Karl Bodmer’s North American Prints; Sabin 47014; Wagner-Camp 76:1.

Copyright 2003, William R. Talbot