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Karl Bodmer, 1809-1893

'Abdih-Hiddisch, a Minatarre Chief'

Description:Read An Essay On This Drawing

This work is a preparatory drapery study for one of Karl Bodmer's illustrations of American Indians found in the impressive two-volume atlas Reise in das Innere Nord-Americka in den Jahren 1832 bis 1834, published in Coblenz in 1839-41. The atlas was the brainchild of Prince Maximilian zu Wied (1782-1867), a Prussian naturalist who underwrote a voyage of exploration west of the Mississippi River. Maximilian employed Bodmer as his draftsman, asking him to record the landscape, the activities of the indigenous peoples they met, and, as here, the portraits of important personalities. The finished watercolor (Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, Nebraska) shows slight variations in the folds and details of the pelt. Especially curious are the three symbols visible at the elbow area of the cape in the Baltimore work, which have been deleted from the Joslyn sheet and from the final print.

Conscious of the audience for the atlas, Bodmer translated the exoticism of his subject into the European idiom of the courtly portrait. It is this context that would signal to the Continental clientele that the unassuming man with stringy hair and tattoos, clothed in animal skins, and adorned with feathers and bear claws, was a village chief and tribal councillor whose powers as a shaman and warrior were legendary. With weapon in hand and cloak of buffalo hide draped over his shoulder, Abdih-Hiddisch's full-length, frontal image mimics any number of Renaissance and baroque ruler portraits, such as Charles V with a Hound by Titian (Prado, Madrid), Robert Rich, 2nd Earl of Warwick by Van Dyck (The Metropolitan Museum of Art), or the State Portrait of Louis XIV by Hyacinthe Rigaud (Musée du Louvre). The tiny figure sketch in the lower-left corner in which the artist works out the contrapposto is reminiscent of the Apollo Belvedere or the Doryphorous, two ancient models Bodmer would surely have copied repeatedly as a student.

Born in Switzerland, Karl Bodmer learned the arts of watercolor and etching from his uncle and then trained briefly in Paris before traveling to the United States. He finally settled in Barbizon in 1856 and became a naturalized French citizen. He exhibited frequently in the Salons and was awarded the Légion d'honneur in 1876. George Lucas, who had moved to Paris himself in 1857, first mentioned Bodmer in his diary in 1867, when the American wrote only "Bodmer aquarelles from Loutrel," with no indication of their subjects or for whom he had acquired them. While Lucas acquired Bodmer's works for clients, he also formed his own collection, gathering eighteen drawings (five of which are of native Americans), about 250 prints, one sketchbook, a palette, and supporting documentation such as newspaper clippings and a photograph of Bodmer's portrait painted by Jean-François Millet.

Lucas rarely made notes in his diary about his own collection. Bodmer appears frequently in the journal, but usually as a fellow agent helping Lucas to secure acquisitions for clients. In August 1885, Lucas purchased seven Barye bronzes for Walters from Bodmer, who also provided Lucas with photographs from the Barbedienne foundry that cast Barye's works.1 After the artist's death in 1893, his son continued working with Lucas to buy art and connect him with other artists. Cheryl K. Snay

1. Lucas, Diary, 2:613, 603 - 4.

Medium: Watercolor over graphite with scraping on cream, medium-weight, smooth wove paper
Dimensions: Sheet: 388 x 280 mm.
Date: ca. 1839
Category: portrait
Subject: Man
Inscriptions and Markings: RECTO: LR, graphite, 'Bodmer fecit'; VERSO: C, blue ink stamp, 'M.I. LUCAS COLLECTION'; TL, graphite, '32'
Exhibition History: The Baltimore Museum of Art, 'Parallels and Precedents: The George A. Lucas Collection in Context', Aug. 23-Oct. 15, 1995. The Baltimore Museum of Art, 'A Continuing Example: The George A. Lucas Collection', Feb. 4-April 9, 1995. The Baltimore Museum of Art, 'Master Drawings by French Artists in the Museum's Collection', May 9-July 23, 1989. The Baltimore Museum of Art, 'The George A. Lucas Collection of the Maryland Institute', Oct. 12-Nov. 21, 1965, p. 64, no. 315.
Bibliography: Marvin C. Ross, 'Five American Indian Drawings by Karl Bodmer', The Baltimore Museum of Art News 16:1 (February-March 1953), p. 9, fig. 1, p. 8.
Related Works: Watercolor in the Joslyn Art Museum and illustrated in John Ewers, et al, 'Views of a Vanishing Frontier', 1984, p. 50-51 and illustrated in William Goetzmann, 'Karl Bodmer's America', Joslyn Art Museum, 1984, p. 315, no. 326.
Provenance: BMA by purchase, 1996; The Maryland Institute, College of Art, 1911; Henry Walters (1848-1931), Baltimore, 1909; George A. Lucas (1824-1909), Paris.
Collection: The Baltimore Museum of Art
Credit Line: The Baltimore Museum of Art: The George A. Lucas Collection, purchased with funds from the State of Maryland, Laurence and Stella Bendann Fund, and contributions from individuals, foundations, and corporations throughout the Baltimore community
Object Number: BMA 1996.48.7193