Karl Bodmer (1809 - 1893), real name Johann Carl Bodmer

Swiss-French painter, draughtsman, illustrator and graphic artist

Karl Bodmer was a pupil of his uncle Johann Jakob Meier (1787-1858), a well known landscape painter and engraver in Zurich. First Karl Bodmer worked for the publishing house F.S. Füssli in Zurich. 1828 he moved to Koblenz, where his “Malerische Ansichten der Mosel, des Rheins und der Lahn” had been published by Jakob Hölscher as hand-coloured aquatints.

In 1832 he travelled as a scientific draughtsman together with Prince Maximilian zu Wied-Neuwied and the preparator David Dreidoppel to North America. The expedition took 28 months and brought them to the regions of North America, west of the Mississippi River, where the Indian tribes lived. In many impressive watercolour paintings Karl Bodmer documented the landscape, plants and animals, but especially the Native Americans of North America at that time. He made more than 400 sketches and watercolour paintings, which he brought back to Germany in 1834.

This pictures are recognized meanwhile as among the most painstakingly accurate painted images ever made of Native Americans, their culture and artefacts. Today the majority of his original watercolours are located in three collections in the United States, at the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, Nebraska, the Newberry Library Bodmer Collection in Chicago, and the Baltimore Museum of Art.

In 1835 Karl Bodmer moved to Paris. From there he supervised the production of the illustrations for the travel book  “Reise in das innere Nord-America in den Jahren 1832 bis 1834” wrote by Maximilian Prince of Wied-Neuwied (Maximilian Prince of Wied’s Travels in the Interior of North America). From Bodmer's watercolour paintings, he brought from the journey, the Prince had chosen 81 to be published as aquatints together with his book in a separate atlas.

From 1848/49 Karl Bodmer mainly lived in Barbizon. He became a French citizen and an influential member of the Barbizon school of painters. He lived and worked together with such famous artist like Peter Burnitz, Théodore Rousseau and Jean-Francois Millet. Together with Millet he created lithographs on American history, commissioned by an American citizen from St. Louis. In 1876 Karl Bodmer became a Knight (Chevalier) of the “National Order of the Legion of Honour” (“Ordre national de la Légion d'honneur”).


Nordamerika Native Museum Zürich: Karl Bodmer. A Swiss Artist in America. 1809–1893.Ein Schweizer Künstler in Amerika. Ausstellungskatalog. Verlag Scheidegger & Spiess, Zürich 2009.

Peter Bolz: Karl Bodmer, Heinrich Rudolf Schinz und die Veränderung des Indianerbilds in Europa. In: Karl Bodmer. Ein Schweizer Künstler in Amerika. Nordamerika Native Museum Zürich, 2009.

Stephen S. Witte, Marsha V. Gallagher (ed.): The North American Journals of Prince Maximilian of Wied. Volume I: May 1832-April 1833. Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha (Nebraska) 2008.

Brandon K. Ruud (ed.): Karl Bodmer's North American Prints. Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha (Nebraska) 2004.

Petra Lamers-Schütze (ed.): The American Indian. Karl Bodmer. Verlag Taschen, Köln 2005.

Sonja Schierle: Die Reise in das innere Nord-America. Faszination und Realität indianischer Kulturen. In: The American Indian. Karl Bodmer. Verlag Taschen, Köln 2005.
Hans Läng: Der Indianer-Bodmer. Sammlung für Völkerkunde. Stiftung St. Galler Museen, St. Gallen 1992.

David C. Hunt, William J. Orr, W. H. Goetzmann (ed.): Karl Bodmer’s America. Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha (Nebraska) 1984.

Hans Läng: Indianer waren meine Freunde. Leben und Werk Karl Bodmers 1809–1893. S. 175–183. Verlag Hallwag, Bern/Stuttgart 1976.

Maximilian zu Wied-Neuwied: Maximilian Prince of Wied’s Travels in the Interior of North America, during the years 1832–1834; Übersetzung von H. Evans Lloyd; Achermann & Comp., London 1843–1844.

Maximilian zu Wied-Neuwied: Voyage dans l’interieur de L’Amérique du Nord exécuté pendant les années 1832, 1833 et 1834. Arthus Bertrand, Paris 1840–1843.

Maximilian zu Wied-Neuwied: Reise in das innere Nord-America in den Jahren 1832 bis 1834, 2 Textbände und 1 Bildatlas mit Illustrationen von Karl Bodmer, J. Hölscher, Koblenz 1839–1841.