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  Karl Bodmer. Tableau 18: “Bison-Dance of the Mandan Indians”.  
Karl Bodmer, Abdih [Addih]-Hiddisch

Karl Bodmer. Tableau 18: “Bison-Dance of the Mandan Indians” (Coblenz: J. Hölscher; London: Ackermann & Co.; Paris: Arthus Bertrand, éditeur, Imp. de Chardon aine et Aze, Alex Manceau, sculp. [1839Š1840]). First edition, second state with blind stamp below text: C. Bodmer, Direc.t Aquatint, mezzotint, etching. Image: 12 1/8 x 17 3/8." Sheet: 17 3/8 x 24 1/2" with full margins. Image has light, even age toning; some toning from existing mat; small crease in affecting two distant figures, u.l.; edges taped to existing mat; a few small tears, mostly marginal, repaired: 1 3/4," u.c.; 1 1/8" and 7/8," l.; 2 1/8" l.c., affecting text; inscribed arrow, b.c. Otherwise, good condition.

“In early April of 1834, Bodmer painted one of the Buffalo Bull Society leaders in full regalia. A few days later the travelers observed a Buffalo Bull dance. Tableau 18, based on these impressions, is one of the most dramatic and action-packed of all the aquatints.”
—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.

“Maximilian reported six age-graded societies for Mandan men. That of the Buffalo Bulls was one of the last and most prestigious a man could join. The members were all seasoned warriors who had proven their worthiness to their fellows and acquired sufficient wealth to purchase their way through each of the younger societies. . . The characteristic headdress of the Buffalo Bulls was a strip of buffalo hide with horns attached. Two particularly brave society members were selected to wear masks representing entire buffalo heads pierced with metal-rimmed eye holes. Men awarded this honor could afterward never flee from an enemy, no matter how great the danger. Other society paraphernalia included bullÕs tails or long trailers of cloth and feathers representing bull’s tails.”
—Hunt & Gallagher

“Bison-Dance of the Mandan Indians” is a wonderful example from Bodmer’s unsurpassed visual account of a vanishing way of life on the American frontier.

Refs.: Graff 4648; Howes M443a; Hunt & Gallagher, Karl Bodmer’s America; Pilling 2521; Ruud, ed., Karl Bodmer’s North American Prints; Sabin 47014; Wagner-Camp 76:1.

Copyright 2003, William R. Talbot