Karl Bodmer Biography

Karl Bodmer




Johann Karl Bodmer, printmaker, painter, illustrator, and hunter, was born in Zurich, Switzerland on 11 February 1809.  He was a Swiss and French citizen and his name was recorded as both Johann Karl Bodmer and Jean-Charles Bodmer. When Bodmer was thirteen years of age, his uncle, Johann Jakob Meier, a prominent engraver and watercolorist, became his teacher and he took the young lad and his younger brother on artistic travels throughout Switzerland.

Bodmer left Switzerland for Germany in 1828 to work as a painter and engraver in Koblenz. It was during this period that his work caught the attention of Prince Maximilian of Wied, an aristocrat and adventurer. Bodmer accepted the invitation of Prince Maximilian to join his scientific journey through North America as the expedition’s artist. They departed for North America on 17 May 1832 and, in April 1833, they set off from St. Louis, traveling via steam and keelboat up the Missouri River through what is now Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Montana. They spent the winter in Fort McKenzie before heading downstream. Bodmer created about 400 watercolors of the American Indian tribes, capturing their ceremonies and daily life, and the varying landscapes of North America.

Bodmer returned to Paris and arranged to have eighty-two of his watercolors translated into color aquatints for the book Maxmillian, Prince of Wied’s Travels in the Interior of North America, during the years 1832-34. The book was first published in Koblenz, Germany in two volumes between 1839 and 1841. The English translation was published in London, also in two volumes, between 1843 and 1844.

Bodmer moved to Barbizon, France, became a French citizen, and used the name Charles Bodmer. He became a member of the Barbizon School, specializing in landscapes and animals, and he worked as a painter, printmaker and illustrator. His painting of the Fontainebleau forest, La Foret en Hiver, was exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1850.

Karl “Charles” Bodmer died in Paris on 30 October 1893.