Karl Bodmer. Tableau 23: “Pehriska-Ruhpa, Moenitarri [Hidatsa] Warrior in the Costume of the
Dog Danse” (Coblenz: J. Hölscher; London: Ackermann & Co.; Paris: Arthus Bertrand, éditeur, Imp. De
Bougeard, René Rollet, sc. [1839–1841]). First edition, first state with “Tab. 28” corrected in pencil to 23,
the actual placement (number was not changed in plate until its third state). Aquatint, mezzotint, etching. Image: 18 1/2 x 13 1/4." Plate mark: 21 1/8 x 15 1/4." Sheet: 23 1/4 x 18 1/8" with full margin on two sides, uneven trim at bottom, close trim at top. Crisp and strong impression; image has light, even age toning; some toning from existing mat; taped top and bottom to existing mat; marginal tack holes in top corners. Overall excellent condition, with superb detail.
“Péhriska-Rúhpa was a principal leader of the Dog Society of his village, and in March of 1834 he posed for a portrait dressed in his society regalia. According to Maximilian, he was wearing at that time a large black cap made of magpie tail feathers with a wild turkey tail in the middle, a war whistle, and a long scarflike trailer . . . horsehair floats from colored sticks attached to the shafts of turkey feathers. All of this was in constant motion as the dancer moved to the cadence of drum and rattle. The rattle, made of small hooves or dew claws attached to a beaded stick, is also a society emblem. . . the aquatint . . . presents him wearing . . . a breechclout, and richly ornamented leggings and moccasins, in a dramatic pose evoking the action of the dance.”
—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, MaximilianÕs 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.”
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; Pilling 2521; Ruud, ed., Karl Bodmer’s North American Prints; Sabin 47014; Wagner-Camp 76:1.