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2009 Catalog > 10. Bodmer, “Herds of Bison and Elks.”

An Outstanding Tableau by Karl Bodmer in Chine Collé, with Superb Hand Color

10. Karl Bodmer, “Herds of Bisons and Elks on the upper Missouri,” Tableau 47 from Travels Into the Interior of North America (London: Ackermann & Co., 1843). Aquatint and etching on Chine collé with Imperial vellum paper and superb hand color. Image: 10 1/4 x 12 3/4." Chine: 13 3/4 x 16 1/2." Vellum: 18 x 21 1/4." A second state impression from the first English edition, the only edition that incorporated the superior chine collé process, which yields finer detail. Very fine.


From 1832 to 1834 Swiss artist Karl Bodmer 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 artistic product of the two-year adventure far outlasted its anthropological purpose however. 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.

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.

It was on their return journey that the party encountered the scene depicted in Herds of Bisons and Elks on the upper Missouri. In September of 1833, Maxmilian made the following entry in his journal:

As we were rapidly carried down by the current, in a turn of the river, we suddenly saw a herd of at least 150 buffaloes, quite near to us, standing on a sand bank in the river. The bulls, bellowing, drove the cows along; many were in motion, and some standing and drinking. It was a most interesting scene. My people laid aside their oars, and let the boat glide noiselessly along within a short rifle-shot of the herd, which took no notice of us, doubtless taking our boat for a mass of drifting timber. . . . The great number of wild animals, buffaloes, elks, bighorns, and antelopes, which we saw on this day, afforded us much entertainment. We checked, on this occasion, our sporting propensities, that we might be able better to observe those interesting animals, in which we perfectly succeeded.

Bodmer’s Herds of Bisons and Elks on the upper Missouri magnificently depicts the pristine landscape and abundant wildlife of frontier America in the early nineteenth century. The color in this example is truly exceptional.

Refs.: Graff 4649; Howes M443a; Pilling 2521; Brandon K. Ruud, ed., Karl Bodmerís North American Prints (2004), p. 229; Sabin 47017; Wagner-Camp 76:3.

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