Bodmer, Karl and Prince Maximilian zu Wied-Neuwied
- Voyage dans l'Intérieur de l'Amérique du Nord executé pendant les années 1832, 1833 et 1834. Paris: Chez Arthus Bertrand, 1840-1843
- paper, ink, leather
Prince Maximilian zu Wied-Neuwied's famed narrative of his trip to the United States and up the Missouri River in 1833-34, with its magnificent atlas of views and scenes of Indian life by Karl Bodmer, is justly celebrated as the greatest illustrated American travel narrative and the most important depiction of American Indians in the frontier era. The journey took place at a time when the unspoiled, mythic West of the exploration and fur trade era was still vibrant, though on the verge of being shattered by the expansion of the United States. Bodmer's engravings of the Indians encountered on the upper Missouri are among the most iconic and celebrated images of the American West.
Karl Bodmer (1809-93) was engaged by Prince Maximilian to provide a pictorial record of his travels among the Indians on the Upper Missouri. His work shows great versatility and technical virtuosity, and gives us a uniquely accomplished and detailed picture of the scenes observed on the expedition and particularly the Indians encountered. The plates in Bodmer's atlas, made up of 33 smaller "vignettes" and 48 larger "tableaus" (for a total of 81 plates), is justly famous as the best depictions of American Indians executed before the era of photography. Illustrated are hunting scenes, portraits of individual warriors including the famous Mato-Tope, Indian dances, scenes on the trip up the Missouri and along the river in its upper reaches, scenes among the Mandan, scenes of the fur trade forts, and illustrations of Indian artifacts. No other images of American Indians even come close to these in accuracy, detail and execution. Less well known, but equally deserving of praise, are Bodmer's depictions of American landscapes, beginning with New York harbor, and including scenes along the way to the stark cliffs of the upper Missouri.
Once home, Maximilian and Bodmer embarked on the arduous task of preparing the printed account of the expedition. Bodmer was put in charge of creating the atlas, beginning with hiring the most skilled engravers, and encompassing every aspect of the difficult process of transforming his original field work into highly finished aquatint engravings. This ultimately took five years and cost a staggering sum of money, as did the final work when finished in 1839. It was published in German, French, and English editions, although all of the engravings were made in Paris and shipped to their respective publishers. Coloring for the French and German editions was done in Paris, while the English edition was done in London. Both Maximilian and Bodmer were unhappy with aspects of the English edition (its publisher, Ackermann, went bankrupt while it was being produced), and greatly preferred the French and German editions.
As the prospectus on the verso of the wrappers present with this text reveal, only 206 copies of the French issue were published, and they were issued in a variety of formats: entirely black and white (150 examples), with approximately 30 plates hand coloured (30 examples), black and white on papier de Chine (15 examples), on papier de Chine with approximately 30 plates hand coloured (5 examples), entirely hand coloured (5 examples), and with all the plates in both coloured and uncoloured states (1 example).
The present example is one of the thirty copies with approximately 30 (i.e. 26 as found here) plates hand colored. Regarding the selection of plates for coloring, a footnote at the bottom of the prospectus explains: "Les planches qui seront coloriees sont celles representant les scenes de la vie domestique, les portraits, costumes, armes, instruments, utensiles..." i.e. the plates which will be colored are those depicting the scenes of domestic life, portraits, costumes, weapons , instruments, utensils. The prospectus is not specific as to which plates are to be colored, and specifies only approximately 30 ("dont 30 environ...").
The colored plates comprise: Tabs 3, 7, 8, 9, 12, 13, 14, 17, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 27, 32, 33, 45, 46, and 48; Vigs. 10, 13, 19, 20, 22, 24, and 27.
Unusually, the present example includes the smaller vignette plates printed on full folio sheets for binding uniform to the tableau plates.
Complete sets of Maximilian in any format have become very difficult to find, with many examples from the more common, uncolored black and white issue being improved with modern color and often broken up. Even more rare on the market are those sets like the present with the correct mix of uncolored and colored plates exactly as issued. The only similar set to appear at auction in the last twenty years was the Sax copy from the in 1998, though it had only 20 colored plates.
Going back further, the only other example of this French issue of 30 copies we could locate, in the trade or in the rooms, was sold by Lathrop Harper in 1933.