THE PORTRAITS OF KARL BODMER
Nancy Beal Allen
A.B., Mount Holyoke College, 1953
A thesis submitted to the
Faculty of the Graduate School of the
University of Colorado in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Humanities
Master of Humanities Program
@ 1989 by Nancy Beal Allen
All rights reserved.
This thesis for the Master of Humanities degree by
Nancy Beal Allen
has been approved for the
Master of Humanities Program
Allen, Nancy Beal (M.H., Humanities)
The Portraits of Karl Bodmer
Thesis directed by Professor Charles Moone and Director of Master of
Humanities Program Kent Casper.
Scholars have well understood that the contribution of Prince
Alexander Maximilian and his illustrator Karl Bodmer in their American
expedition of 1832-34 constituted a valuable study of the ethnography of the
American Indian. Yet scholars have failed to emphasize sufficiently the
significance of the Bodmer portraits to ethnology, that is, to the study of the
distribution and distinguishing characteristics of the races of humanity. The
importance of the portraits as physiognomic studies has still to be evaluated.
The evidence contained in the portraits disputes, in part, the list of general
characteristics of Indians compiled by the eighteenth century anthropologist
J. F. Blumenbach. The portraits and the journal also provide a positive view
of the Indian of the Upper Missouri as intelligent, talented, emotional and
spiritual individuals. Maximilians and Bodmers interpretation furnished an
expanded and multi-dimensional view, at a time when information on the
Plains Indian was lacking.
Examination of Bodmers portraits as case studies in ethnology
brings a fresh perspective to the interpretation of Bodmers work. In the
study of race, Blumenbach supposed that the Indians represented a late stage
of degeneration in the evolutionary process. The implication of the portraits
and certain statements by the Prince oppose Blumenbachs hypothesis. In
addition, the likely influence of the science of physiognomy set forth by the
Zurich theologian J. C. Lavater in 1789 adds credence to the idea that the
portraits are physiognomic studies.
Bodmers portrait style developed from European models with
strong parallels to T. Gericault and J. A. D. Ingres. With his extraordinary
talent in drawing, Bodmer defined the faces and forms of the Indians with
the precision of scientific illustration. At the same time, he often powerfully
developed the character of individual Indians. His portraits represent a
realistic strain in Romantic expression.
The form and content of this abstract are approved. I recommend its
I wish to thank the Personnel of the Center for Western Studies,
Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, Nebraska, for their gracious assistance and
collegiality during my visit to the Center in May 1986. David C. Hunt,
Curator of Western Art, cooperated with my unhurried examination of Karl
Bodmers original works of field studies, watercolor compositions and full
color renditions completed in Europe for reproduction in the original atlas of
engravings. Joseph C. Porter, Curator of Western American History and
Ethnology, and Rosemary Williams, Manuscript typist, were especially helpful,
and a conference with Marsha V. Gallagher answered questions about
ethnography and bibliography. The cordiality of the staff I found exceptional.
My gratitude goes also to faculty advisors, Charles Moone, Professor
of Fine Arts, and Kent Casper, Director of the Master of Humanities
Program, at University of Colorado-Denver. Charles Moone encouraged me
to pursue the possible connection between J.C. Lavaters theories and
Bodmers work. Kent Casper proved enormously helpful with stylistic
suggestions. Professor Patricia Nelson Limerick, University of Colorado-
Boulder, offered helpful comments on an earlier paper on Maximilian.
I am grateful to my husband, Professor Frederick S. Allen, who
read the manuscript, encouraged this project, and degree program and in
addition, journeyed in the summer of 1988 to Neuwied where he spoke with
the present Prince who described Maximilian as his most illustrious ancestor.
I am thankful to Paula Nicolas and Cynthia Marini who read the rough draft
and made important organizational and stylistic comments.
Finally, I am indebted to Sue Walz of Exeter Word Processing for
her patience and persistence in preparing this presentation and to Eliot
Waron of Business Express, Boulder, Colorado, for reproduction of the
illustrations. And I am especially grateful to my friends and family who urged
me to complete this project in spite of interruptions and distractions.
I. INFLUENCES FROM THE PAST........................1
II. PHYSICAL AND PERSONALITY CHARACTERISTICS 29
The Profile Portrait..........................29
Women and Children ...........................54
Deviant and Exceptional Personalities.........60
III. INDIVIDUALISM AND NATURAL ENDOWMENT ... 85
Men of Exceptional Talent ....................85
Kinship Associations ....................... 106
Medicine Men and Political Leaders.......... 118
IV. EPILOGUE..................................... 144
SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY................................... 155
Frontispiece Karl Bodmer, The Travelers Meeting with Minatarree
Indians near Fort Clark.
1.1 Charles Bird King, Petalesharo. Skidi Pawnee Hero...........22
1.2 B.J.F. Saint-Memin, Chief of the Little Osages..............23
1.3 John Neagle, Big Elk. Omaha Head Chief......................24
1.4 George Catlin, Mah-To-Toh-Pa. Mandan Chief..................26
2.1 Karl Bodmer, Head of an Antelope............................31
2.2 Karl Bodmer, Massika. Sauk Man..............................33
2.3 J. C. Lavater, Six Heads....................................37
2.4 Karl Bodmer, Kiasax. Piegan. Blackfeet Man.................39
2.5 Karl Bodmer, Ho-Ta-Ma. Ponca Man...........................40
2.6 J. C. Lavater, Henry Fuseli.................................42
2.7 Karl Bodmer, Homachseh-Katotohs.............................45
2.8 Karl Bodmer, Unidentified Man...............................46
2.9 J. C. Lavater, Four Temperaments. ..........................47
2.10 Karl Bodmer, Pioch-Kiaiu. Blackfeet Man....................50
2.11 J. A. D. Ingres, Male Torso.................................52
2.12 Karl Bodmer, Cree Woman....................................56
2.13 Karl Bodmer, Cree Woman..................................57
2.14 Karl Bodmer, Omaha Bov....................................59
2.15 Karl Bodmer, Blackfeet-Assiniboin Girl....................61
2.16 Karl Bodmer, Mahchsi-Nihka. Mandan Man....................64
2.17 Theodore Gericault, Portrait of a Kidnapper................67
2.18 Karl Bodmer, Mahsette-Kuiuab. Cree Chief.................68
2.19 Karl Bodmer, Shoshonean Woman............................70
2.20 Karl Bodmer, Mexkemauastan. Atsina Chief.................73
2.21 J. A. D. Ingres, Portrait of Charles X in Coronation
2.22 Karl Bodmer, Tukan-Haton, Yankton Sioux Chief..............78
2.23 Theodore Gericault, Portrait of a Carabinier...............80
2.24 J. A. Ingres, Louis Bertin. LAine [The Elder].............82
3.1 Karl Bodmer, Sih-Chida. Mandan Man........................86
3.2 J. C. Lavater, Mouths......................................89
3.3 Karl Bodmer, Mahchsi-Karehde. Mandan Man..................92
3.4 Karl Bodmer, Mandeh-Pahchu. Mandan Man....................97
3.5 Karl Bodmer, Ihkas-Kinne. Siksika Blackfeet Chief........ 101
3.6 Karl Bodmer, Homach-Ksachkum. Kutenai Man................ 108
3.7 Karl Bodmer, Makuie-Poka. Piegan Blackfeet Man........... 109
3.8 Karl Bodmer, Omaha Man................................... Ill
3.9 Karl Bodmer, Omaha Bov................................... 112
3.10 Karl Bodmer, Schuh-De-Ga-Che. Ponca Chief. .............. 113
3.11 Karl Bodmer, Passitopa. Ponca Man........................ 114
3.12 Karl Bodmer, Kickapoo Man................................ 115
3.13 Karl Bodmer, Kickapoo Man................................ 116
3.14 Karl Bodmer, Mandan Shrine............................... 119
3.15 Karl Bodmer, Niatohsa. Atsina Chief...................... 122
3.16 J. Lavater, Of Different Parts of the Body. Eves......... 123
3.17 Karl Bodmer, Tatsicki-Stomick. Piegan Blackfeet Chief. .... 126
3.18 Karl Bodmer, Pehriska-Ruhpa. Hidatsa Man................. 128
3.19 Karl Bodmer, Mato-Tope. Mandan Chief..................... 130
3.20 Karl Bodmer, Pehriska-Ruhpa. Hidatsa Man................. 134
3.21 Karl Bodmer, Mato-Tope. Mandan Man....................... 135
3.22 J.A.D. Ingres, Napoleon on His Imperial Throne........... 136
3.23 J.A.D. Ingres, Portrait of Charles X in Coronation
Robes. .......................................... 137
3.24 J. C. Lavater, Attitudes of the Prussian Military........ 139
3.25 Benjamin West, Sir John Sinclair of Ulbster.............. 140
Frontispiece. The Travellers Meeting with Minatarree Indians near
Fort Clark. Aquatint after Karl Bodmer, Karl Bodmers America.
356. Prince Maximilian is the shorter man to the left; Karl Bodmer
is the taller one to the right.
My interest in the life and work of Karl Bodmer began in the
winter of 1977 when I was living in Zurich with my family and we set out on
a family excursion to Riesbach, suburb of Zurich. While walking about the
streets there, I happened upon a colorfully shuttered house which bore the
sign "Geburtshaus des Kunstlers, Karl Bodmer, 1809." Though I knew a little
about European art, I had never heard of the Swiss artist Bodmer, and
wondered who he was, yet thought very little more about him. The following
June when traveling in France, I stayed at a pension called Les Charmettes
on the main street in Barbizon and there below the gable of the inn was a
sign that read, "La Maison du peintre Karl Bodmer, 1856 1892." Was this
the same artist I encountered near Zurich? Why would a Swiss artist settle in
Barbizon for almost forty years?
Soon I returned home and resumed my study at the Denver Art
Museum in the European and American Indian departments where I ran
across Bodmer again in some prints on exhibit from the Buffalo Bill Museum
in Cody, Wyoming. This time I actually saw some of his work: portraits, a
landscape and a buffalo hunt. A few years later, when I was on the staff of
the Colorado Historical Society, several Bodmer engravings of portraits were
included in another exhibit from the Cody museum. I was impressed with
their painstaking detail and the care with which they were rendered. How did
it happen that Karl Bodmer, a Swiss artist living in France, painted American
scenes and Indians of the upper Missouri? I began research on this artist,
delving into articles from periodicals where I discovered the search for a lost
diary by a librarian from Montclair, New Jersey, Margery Quigley.
After the Second World War, hundreds of Bodmer watercolors were
found in Prince Maximilians Rhineland residence at Neuwied. Maximilian,
Bodmers patron and leader of a natural history expedition to North America
in 1832-34, descended from a minor noble German family near Koblenz
where he was the eighth of ten children. Since it was unlikely that he would
ever be called to rule the principality of Neuwied he pursued his interest in
natural history for a career. In 1832 he hired the young Swiss artist Karl
Bodmer as illustrator for his expedition to North America. That is how
Bodmer came to paint the Indians of North America.
In 1984 I returned to France and lived in a small village near
Barbizon. This provided me the opportunity to continue my search into the
life and adventures of Karl Bodmer. In Barbizon I found the Cafe Ganne
which Bodmer frequented for a few years before he suddenly withdrew into
oblivion.7 I found some engravings in the Municipal Museum and I located
his grave in the nearby village of Chailly. In the Municipal Museum at
Barbizon I was intrigued by one work, a collaborative effort with J. F. Millet,
at the time a less well known artist than Bodmer. Millet had contracted to
render the Indians and Bodmer contributed forest and animal drawings which
at the time he seemed to favor. Millets Indians looked more like peasants
with Indian adornment.2
Continuing my search, I visited the Hotel de Ville in Fountainbleau
to see a Bodmer oil painting, one that was exhibited at the Paris Salon of
1853. It was a forestscape with deer and had darkened badly with age. When
at the Bibliotheque Nationale, in Paris, I perused the French edition of the
Atlas of Engravings which accompanied Maximilians Travels in the Interior
of North America 1832-1834.
Now firmly committed to investigating the Bodmer story, I began my
search in earnest, and I decided in 1985 to pursue a Master of Humanities
degree at the University of Colorado as a way to discipline my efforts and to
7William H. Goetzmann, David C. Hunt, Marsha V. Gallagher, William J.
Orr, Karl Bodmers America (n.p.: Joslyn Art Museum and University of
Nebraska Press, 1984), 370.
explore many aspects of the Maximilian-Bodmer story. Initially, I was
attracted to the broad sweeping landscapes and river scenes, then to the
exotic dances and buffalo hunts but finally, after a trip in May of 1987 to the
Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, I was drawn to the portraits of individual
Indians who have their own story to tell.
I was intrigued by the question, how could the inexperienced young
artist, Bodmer (23-25 years), painting under such difficult conditions of time
and weather and with little previous experience in portraiture produce so
many high quality paintings of Indians, a people he had never laid eyes on
before? I also asked the question what elements in the American
environment or in the dynamics of this expedition to the Upper Missouri
stimulated the young Bodmer to express the highest creative achievements of
his lifetime? Never again does he rise to these heights of excellence or turn
European preconceptions of Indians were vague and mixed. They
ranged from the idea of Indians as primitive, uncivilized savages to interest in
them as colorful specimens of American exoticism who might embody the
"natural man" described by J.J. Rousseau.5 In the "Garden of America," the
5Hoxie Neale Fairchild, The Noble Savage: A Study in Romantic Naturalism
(New York: Russell and Russell, 1961), 2-4, 136.
Prince and the painter might experience a land purer than Europe and
people who lived close to a state of nature.4 Curiosity about Indians together
with a search for new knowledge added an excitement to Bodmers work
which was unparalleled in his later life. Such inspired dedication forged a
commitment that produced nearly 500 field studies of the American
landscape and portraits of Indians. The paintings describe a land beautiful in
its wild, unspoiled visions of nature and the portraits document a broad
sample of individual Indians.
In the folio of engravings I was surprised to discover the subject of
one of the earliest plates (July, 1832) was Boston Light, the oldest lighthouse
in America and one I had sailed by many summers when visiting my family in
Hingham, Massachusetts. Because the places Bodmer had lived and visited
corresponded at points with my own personal history and since interest in
Indians and in European artists had long been a passionate avocation, the
Bodmer quest became a personal search for integration of my own
experiences and interests. From 1985 1988 I wrote numerous papers about
the Prince and the painter in an effort to uncover the circumstances of their
travels and the possible influences on their thinking. I examined the Reuben
Gold Thwaites, edition (1905) and H. E. Lloyd translation of the Princes
4Joshua Taylor, America as Art (New York: Harper and Row Publishers
1976), 105, 169, 170.
journal in Early Western Travels 1789-1846. I studied the fur trade and early
American frontier history. I read from some German Romantics: Goethe,
Tieck, Novalis, Arnim and Hoffman to see what influence these 18th century
writers might have had on Maximilian and Bodmer. I delved into German
history and studied William and Alexander Humboldt and wrote a paper on
the latter, Maximilians acclaimed mentor. Finally, I considered Bodmer in
relation to Catlin who had journeyed over some of the same territory a year
earlier painting portraits of Indians, much as Bodmer did. All these were
preparation for the present study in which I discuss Bodmers portraits from
the perspective of ethnology and their place as case studies in the history of
The big themes that I discovered in considering the many aspects of
the Maximilian-Bodmer story, were first, the interplay of Romantic attitudes
and the disciplined observations of Maximilian make the findings of this early
19th century expedition an expression of Romantic and scientific worlds.6
Man and nature interact employing the rational and imaginative faculties of
both the Prince and the painter. This interpenetration of Romantic and
5Ethnological, in this case, refers to the branch of anthropology that
analyzes the historical development of a culture and the distribution and
distinguishing characteristics of the races of humanity.
6Goetzmann and others, 49.
Enlightenment elements results in a tolerant and positive view of the Indians
and an appreciation of the natural beauty of the land for its own sake. Free
of the political and economic motives of American expeditions, this European
venture concentrated on aesthetic and scientific considerations. The view
presented by Maximilian and Bodmer of the land and the Indians represents
a different interpretation of the Trans-Mississippi West from that of Lewis
and Clark (1806) or earlier explorers.
Another theme revolves around the Indian portraits and the
question of Blumenbachs idea of the origin of races and the relative order of
competence of each race. Since Maximilian studied with Blumenbach at
Gottingen in 1801-1802 the Prince was well aware of the early
anthropologists theory that the races of humanity originated with one set of
parents and that the Indian represented a degenerative species. Maximilians
first objective was to collect specimens of plants and animals and catalogue
them. But his second objective, to study the Indians, became the more
important contribution since many of his specimens of plants and animals
were destroyed on their return trip to Europe in 1834.7
7Uninsured, the plant and animal specimens burned and sank on a ship
bound for Europe on the Mississippi near St. Louis. Alexander Maximilian,
Travels in The Interior of North America 1932-34. Reuben Gold Thwaites, ed.,
Early Western Travels 1748-1846. trans. Hannibal Evans Lloyd (Cleveland:
Arthur H. Clark Co., 1905) vol. 23, 360.
In recent years, the portraits have been recognized for their
ethnographic significance as documents of Plains culture before the invention
of photography. But Bodmers portraits, considered as physiognomic studies
within the history of anthropology, constitute a fascinating new orientation to
examination of these portraits.5 There is every possibility that Maximilian and
Bodmer were influenced by the physiognomic studies of J. C. Lavater, a
respected theologian and scholar of the late 18th century, who resided in
Zurich and whose work aroused wide interest prior to Maximilian and
Maximilians and Bodmers interpretation of Indians as respectable
talented individuals rather than the degenerative people described by
Blumenbach or Lavater represents a theme I wish to explore more deeply.
The premise that art may be useful to ethnology, the comparative study of
ethnic distinction, is assumed; examination of selected portraits as case studies
in early anthropology serves as the basis of the discussion. Within the
framework of the history of anthropology and the conventions of European
portraiture these portraits represent physiognomic studies of individual
5In the present work I define "physiognomic study" as a description of
physical characteristics which sometimes suggest personality attributes.
Indians. At a time when interest in racial characteristics was reaching a peak
Maximilian sought evidence to enrich Blumenbachs comparative study of race
with specific information on the Indians.
Recently, in 1985 and 1988, new interest in Bodmers Indian
portraits has been awakened by a show of his works at the Metropolitan
Museum of Art in New York and a television production, called "The
American Experience." In the television production, Bodmers portraits were
juxtaposed with todays Indians who acknowledge their debt to Bodmer for
vividly recalling their ancestors. Produced by the Metropolitan Museum, this
airing of Bodmers work publicized his paintings and accorded them status as
For convenience, the discussion and organization of this study
proceeds within six portrait groups: (1) The Profile Portrait, (2) Women and
Children, (3) Deviant and Exceptional Personalities, (4) Men of Exceptional
Talent, (5) Kinship Associations, and (6) Medicine Men and Political Leaders.
Chapter One considers the background of ideas which influenced the thinking
of the men of this expedition and this period in history. The analysis and
interpretation of the portraits finds some correspondence with the racial
theories of Blumenbach and Lavater but more nearly agrees with the
observations of Tocqueville that the Indian felt inferior to no one.9 Chapter
Two discusses the first three groups of portraits and relates them to
Blumenbach and Lavaters theories and emphasizes the expeditions broad
view of Indians. Chapter Three analyses three further categories of portraits
and concludes that the individuality and natural talents of the Indians
expressed in the portraits and journal elevate the reputation of the Indian in
Blumenbachs hypothesis. The final chapter, called Epilogue discusses the
conclusions in relation to racial views of the times and considers some
"negative" attributes of the Indians expressed by the Prince. The epilogue also
offers some explanation for Bodmers high achievement and defines Bodmers
particular contribution to characterization of the Plains Indians.
Bodmers portraits reveal a fresh and positive interpretation of the
Indian which disputed much of Blumenbachs and Lavaters speculations
about the Indian as an inferior race. In a sense, Bodmers work appears as
scientific illustration, since many of his portraits possess the exacting quality
associated with this art; yet, the faces and gestures of some of his Indians
convey more than mere documentation. These portraits express a level of
human feeling and spirituality which echoes the Indians deepest needs for
spiritual guidance, survival and honor.
9Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America. The Henry Reeve text, rev.
Francis Bowen, ed. Phillips Bradley (New York: Vintage Books, 1957), vol. 1,
INFLUENCES FROM THE PAST
In the early nineteenth century, ambitious, thoughtful explorers from
Europe and America made the collection, cataloguing and observation of the
worlds plants, animals and native peoples the principal objective of their
expeditions. These scientific ventures in America prepared the way for
expansion, trade or settlement. In Europe, these expeditions satisfied a
curiosity for exotic, unfamiliar lands and extended the interests of travellers,
settlers, businessmen and scholars. European expeditions were organized, in
the name of science, to advance knowledge in natural history and to test the
theories of social scientists like the German anthropologist, Johann
Blumenbach. In the tradition of the expeditions of Alexander Humboldt
(1799-1804), Lewis and Clark (1804-1806) and Stephen Long (1819-1820), the
Prussian Prince Alexander Maximilian of Neuwied explored North America in
1832-1834 from eastern Massachusetts to the Upper Missouri.
In quite a contrast of social origins to American explorers, Prince
Alexander Philipp Maximilian, bom in 1782 to a Prussian aristocratic family
from the small principality of Neuwied, near Koblenz on the Rhine, financed
a private natural history expedition to study the plants, animals and native
peoples of North America. Educated at University of Gottingen under
Professor Johann Blumenbach, famous naturalist and early physical
anthropologist, Maximilian had become interested in Blumenbachs theory of
five races and the relative status of the American Indian within the family of
races. On his journey to North America the Prince hoped to enlighten
Blumenbachs theory with new information on Indians as well as record the
plants and animals of America.7
Photography had not yet been invented; consequently, many
explorers hired resident artists to record the land and other natural
phenomena in watercolor sketches which later might be turned into
engravings for book illustration. The twenty-three year old Bodmer had been
trained for ten years by his maternal uncle, Johann Jakob Meier, an
established and respected Zurich engraver. Meier said of his nephew that he
had "an exceptional eye for watercolor."2 Bodmer was probably recommended
7William H. Goetzmann, David C. Hunt, Marsha V. Gallagher, William J.
Orr, Karl Bodmers America (n.p.: Joslyn Art Museum and University of
Nebraska Press, 1984), 5.
^ans Lang, Indianer waren meine Freunde: Leber und Werk Karl
Bodmers. 1809-1893 (Bern and Stuttgart: Hallweg, 1976) 120.
to the Prince by a publisher in Koblenz of Rhine and Moselle landscapes for
travelers; he teamed with Prince Maximilian for the adventure and experience
of his lifetime.5
In the 1950s John Ewers and other scholars recognized the value of
the Bodmer paintings as documents in ethnography, or records of the Plains
culture before the coming of photography. Unappreciated at the time of the
expedition and needing emphasis today is the ethnological significance of the
portraits and journal and their implication for the racial theories of the day.
Scholars have not recognized sufficiently the importance of the Princes
journal and Bodmers visual images in providing evidence that refutes
Blumenbachs hypothesis of the Indians as degenerate and inferior people.4
According to Blumenbachs theory of five races, the Indian stood in
an intermediate position between the Caucasian and the Mongolian and was
^Goetzmann, and others, 4, 5.
^Joseph Porter recognized the general ethnological significance of Bodmers
work in William Goetzmann, The West as Romantic Horizon (Omaha: Joslyn
Art Museum, 1981) 37, 40. Also William H. Goetzmann, and William N.
Goetzmann, The West of the Imagination (New York: W.W. Norton & Co.,
1986), 54, states that Bodmer painted ethnological types and also tried to
capture "the essence of his subjects as human beings."
thought to be a simpler and degenerative form of humanity.5 By
"degenerative form" Blumenbach believed that, over time, the genetic stock of
the Indian had deteriorated in strength due to environmental factors such as;
climate, diet, or lifestyle.6 As a result, through the years, Indian physical
characteristics like skin and hair color or texture, body weight and head shape
had changed and weakened. In other words, the Indian race had declined in
strength from what it had been originally. When he compared the Indian with
the Caucasian, he found the Indian to be inferior in quality, and in a stage of
human development he considered "degenerative." Blumenbach established a
set of general characteristics which he thought distinguished the Indian from
other races of humanity. He stated these characteristics as follows:
American variety. Copper coloured hair black, stiff, straight and
scanty forehead short; eyes set very deep; nose somewhat apish, but
prominent; the face invariably broad, with cheeks prominent, but not
flat or depressed; its parts, if seen in profile [are] very distinct, and as it
were deeply chiseled the shape of the forehead and head in many
Nevertheless, in spite of his description of general Indian characteristics,
Blumenbach allowed for exceptions and some variation in Indian appearance.
5Earl W. Count, ed. This Is Race: An Anthology Selected from the
International Literature on the Races of Man (New York: Henry Schuman Inc.,
6Count, 28, 29.
Based on Blumenbachs assumptions, Lavater devised a theory
known as physiognomy, which postulated that configuration of the head and
facial features corresponded to specific personality traits and distinguished a
particular racial group. Lavaters attention to precise documentation of head
shape and facial features may have provided a model for the Prince and
Bodmer. Details of Bodmers portraits disclose some correspondence between
exterior features and interior feeling. But Lavaters belief that the Indian skull
consistently exhibited features denoting a weak intellect or "indelicate" and
"gross feelings" are not borne out by a close study of the portraits or the
journal. Maximilians findings reevaluate the capability of the Indian as
defined by Lavater and Blumenbach. Examination of Bodmer portraits as
physiognomic studies supported by excerpts from the Princes journal elevate
the reputation of the Indian and discredit some of Blumenbachs and
Before his journey, the Prince had reviewed Longs field journal of
the Rocky Mountains and found it lacking in a "faithful and vivid picture" of
the land and the Indians.5 He believed a more accurate and colorful account
of the landscape and the native people would interest the European traveller
5 Alexander Maximilian, Travels in the Interior of North America. 1832-34.
ed. Reuben Gold Thwaites in Early Western Travels. 1748-1846. trans. Hannibal
Evans Lloyd (Cleveland: Arthur H. Clark Co., 1905), vol. 22, 26.
and at the same time provide useful information to scholars of natural history
and early anthropologists. The results of his exploration, published as Travels
in the Interior of North America 1832 1834 in the early 1840s, for the first
time offered to Europeans a portfolio of engravings accompanied by a first-
hand account of a scientific expedition to America.9
In the spring of 1833, the fur trade, at its height, flourished on the
Upper Missouri with St. Louis as its base. The American Fur Company had
replaced the Astor and Rocky Mountain Companies as the most powerful fur
company in North America. Economically dependent on Indian labor to scout
and provide beaver pelts, representatives of the American Fur Company
came in constant contact with Indians and often employed knowledgeable
interpreters who communicated effectively with Indian trappers. In addition, a
system of American government forts, initially founded by Lewis and Clark,
protected American commercial interests and sought to provide law and
order to the territory. Judiciously, the Prince capitalized on an already
established chain of communication with Indians and took advantage of the
Missouri water route with its fort trading posts as a sure way to encounter
friendly Indians. The water route also provided a convenient means to
9Goetzmann and others, 21.
penetrate the Upper Missouri and transport his extensive collections of
specimens out of the north country back to St. Louis and then to Europe.
April 10, 1833 must have been an exciting moment for the
Maximilian-Bodmer team when the American Fur Company Steamer,
Yellowstone, departed northbound from St. Louis with local Indians waving
farewell and about one hundred passengers on board.70 Although there had
been white contact for over a century, there was certainly a chance of danger;
cautious excitement must have accompanied the travelers as they journeyed
into Indian territory in the vicinity of Fort Clark, Fort Union and Fort
McKenzie. The following winter would bring sub-zero temperatures when
Bodmers paints would freeze while working near Fort Union. Food shortages
and crowded fort housing would make life uncomfortable for work.
Nevertheless, Maximilian and Bodmer persisted and their experience with the
Mandans during the following spring of 1834 would prove to be the most
intense and in-depth study of their journey.
During the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, interest in
comparative anatomy as a way to measure innate capacity began to develop
in Europe and America. In the eighteenth century, the German naturalist and
70Maximilian, vol. 23, 215, 218.
early anthropologist J.F. Blumenbach conducted racial studies based on a
comparison of human skulls from various cultures. Blumenbach thought he
could measure the intellectual and natural talents of a given race by the
cranial capacity and configuration of the head. In a similar vein, the Swiss, J.
C. Lavater, believed he had found a reliable correlation between particular
external features of the head and internal personality and racial attributes.
Later, in America, in the early nineteenth century, Dr. Samuel Morton
examined and compared the skulls of Indian tribes of North and South
America in an effort to discern physical differences.77 By 1832, interest in the
cranial capacity of native peoples as studies in varieties of humanity had
gained some attention by scholars and the budding sciences of ethnology and
craniology had begun to emerge.
The possible connection between the quests of Blumenbach,
Lavater, and Morton and the Maximilian-Bodmer expedition bears further
investigation. Blumenbach, Lavater, and Morton shared the common
assumption that comparative study of the skull might provide a key to racial
characteristics, intellectual capacity and, in the case of Lavater, a link to
personality attributes. Bodmers portraits reflect extraordinary attention to
details of head configuration, facial features, color and texture of hair and
77Samuel George Morton, Crania Americana (Philadelphia: John Pennington
skin and body form. Maximilian specifically comments upon tribal
physiognomy and describes Indian physical and personality attributes in detail.
Could it be that the Prince and the painter, aware of a need for accurate
description of the physical attributes of the Indians, consciously sought to
document the racial characteristics of the Indian. Examination of this
hypothesis forms a main theme of my study.
We must ask the question, to what degree were Maximilian and
Bodmer influenced by the theories of Blumenbach, Lavater and Morton and
the idea that a study of the human head and common facial features might
be a key to race, personality or intellectual capacity. Among Blumenbachs
five distinct racial groups: Caucasian, American, Mongolian, Ethiopian, and
Malaysian, did the American [Indian] represent a degenerative and inferior
form as Blumenbach speculated?72 Or did the expeditions findings more
closely correlate with the work of J.C. Lavater who continued a study of the
human skull and first published his Essays on Physiognomy in \lllP In his
essays Lavater attempted to turn the study of physiognomy into a science. He
believed that the external structure or features of the head could reliably
predict internal traits of personality and race. His volumes, popularly received
/JJohn Graham, Lavaters Essays on Physiognomy (Las Vegas: Peter Lang
Publishers, Ltd., 1979), 77.
at the time in England, France, Germany and Switzerland, stimulated further
interest in the idea of the correspondence of external features to inner
As a fellow citizen of Zurich, it is highly likely that Bodmer, through
his uncle, had been exposed to Lavaters influence. At the time of his death
in 1801, Lavater was acknowledged as "one of the most famous men in
Europe."75 Surely, the engraver. J.J. Meier would have knowledge of Lavaters
work completed in his home city and discussed extensively in Zurich. We can
only speculate, however, as to whether the Prince or Bodmer ever met Dr.
Morton, but we know that the Europeans visited and were favorably
impressed with the Peale Museum of Natural History in Philadelphia, the
same city where Morton was working and published his Crania Americana in
1839. Considering the Princes interest in Blumenbachs study and
Maximilians meticulous preparations for the expedition, it seems probable
that the Prince was acquainted with Mortons cranial studies and their
relevance for his own observations.
Given his fervent interest in racial study and curious about recent
investigations in comparative anatomy and physiognomy, Maximilian probably
was acquainted with Lavaters studies. As a serious student of natural history,
which during this period extended to native peoples, the Prince would have
found much discussion of Lavaters ideas among colleagues and scholars. The
availability of Lavaters essays publicized the theologians theories extensively
in Europe during a formative time in Maximilians maturation years. By 1810
fifty-seven editions of Lavaters essays had been published in less than 40
years.76 It would be surprising if a scholar of Maximilians standing and
educational interests had not pondered Lavaters theories and his science of
Knowledge of inner reality as perceived through outward
appearance emphasized the uniqueness and harmony of each human being.
Individualism, a legacy from the Declaration of the Rights of Man 1789,
expressed itself strongly in Romantic art and thought. In fairness to Lavater,
we must acknowledge that he allowed for the uniqueness of each individual.
Romantic notions embedded in Lavaters beliefs such as harmony of body
and spirit, individuality and knowledge of man as a way to the Deity would
appeal to Maximilian.77 For beneath the disciplined mind of the Prince lay
the fantasy of the artist which accepted the imagination as a legitimate source
For instance, such vivid entries in the journal as the following
demonstrate Maximilians belief in Nature as an expression of the
A solemn silence prevailed in the vast, solitary wilderness, where
Nature, in all her savage grandeur, reigned supreme.7,5
In another instance, the fanciful mind of the Prince fashioned a French
garden out of unusual sandstone formations.
When standing among the remarkable masses of sandstone we fancied
ourselves in a garden laid out in the old French style, where urns,
obelisks, statues, as well as hedges and trees clipped into various
shapes, surrounded the astonished spectator.79
There is no question that the Prince employed his imagination freely. And
yet, along with such Romantic interpretations went precise documentation as,
for example, the following when he described an interesting plant: "Some with
long roots like carrots, especially the yellow flowering Butschia longiflora and
77John Caspar Lavater, Essays on Physiognomy, Designed to Promote the
Knowledge and Love of Mankind: 800 Engravings. Accurately Copies: and Some
Duplicates Added from Originals (London: John Murray, 1789) vol. 1, 29, 62;
vol. 3 pt. 1, 204.
75Maximilian, vol. 23, 286.
the Oxitrops lambert."20 Unmistakably, the mind of Maximilian incorporated
two worlds and accepted both the imagination and reason as viable methods
When Lavater constructed a science of physiognomy by systematic
observation and a record of particular facial features he found a reliable
correspondence between certain physical facial features and personality traits.
He defended physiognomy as a new emerging science and stated:
Physiognomy may be improved into a science as well as every other
thing that bears the name of science. Physics. Medicine,
Theology. What is it, in effect, that conducts us to the Deity if it be not
the knowledge of Man? And how do we attain the knowledge of Man
but by his face and form?* 22
It would seem that the Prince and the painter relied on a similar premise as
Lavater: namely, that knowledge of Man by face and form provided a basis
for the study of human nature and a gateway to the Deity. Like Lavater,
Maximilian and Bodmer assumed that the reality of man might be perceived
through his physical appearance.
Let us consider, for a moment, some examples of Lavaters theories
which concern the relationship of exterior features to interior reality and
20Maximilian, vol. 23, 283.
22Lavater, vol. 1, 62.
which pertain to our study of racial and personality characteristics:
Foreheads and Noses: Based on Winkelmanns reflections on Greek
painting and sculpture, the profiles of the foreheads of gods and
goddesses and the nose form almost a straight line. Examination of
foreheads determine great sense, intellect or mental weakness.22 *
The Indian Skull: ... it is easily distinguishable. .. The crown of the
head is more pointed, the hind-head more shortened, the bones of the
jaw and of the whole face, infinitely thicker. A skull thus conformed
announces a person whose appetites are gross and sensual and
incapable of being affected by mental pleasure and delicacy of feeling.25
Harmony: assumes there is a complete harmony between the structure
of the individual and his character. The position of the body and the
relation of the parts to each other determine the moral and intellectual
character of every individual.24
The point is not that Maximilian or Bodmer adopted per se
Lavaters beliefs. Indeed, in many cases, as we shall see, Bodmers visual
images and the Princes description of personality failed to conform to
Lavaters or Blumenbachs theories. Rather, the point is that at this period in
history, curiosity about physiognomy as a kind of pseudo-science had sparked
much interest in European intellectual circles. Since Maximilian and Bodmer
undoubtedly had some exposure to Lavaters theories they were indirectly
influenced by his inquiry. The Zurich theologian analyzed human features in a
meticulous and systematic manner and attempted to impose a scientific
method on the study of human beings. In much the same manner, Maximilian
22Lavater, vol. 3, pt. 1, 50.
^Ibid., vol. 2, 162.
24Ibid., vol. 3, pt. 1, 204.
verbally described Indians and Bodmer documented in precise line Indian
faces and physique.
Though later Lavaters theories became discredited due to
insufficient evidence, during the period of the Maximilian-Bodmer expedition,
1832-1834, Lavaters ideas flourished in spite of opposition from such famous
scholars of natural history as the eminent French botanist Count de Buffon.
Influenced by the popularity of Lavaters physiognomic studies and the ideas
of their time, Maximilian and Bodmer joined in the search for information on
Indians that might support, modify or refute physiognomy as a science and
also contribute new information to Blumenbachs hypothesis.
Although close observation and documentation reflected the
expeditions scientific objective, another powerful current of thought also
attracted the Prince and the painter. Embedded in early nineteenth century
European exploration of the New World lay the idea of the quest for a lost
Golden Age. The belief that somewhere on earth a Garden or Paradise
existed where people lived in a state of nature or in accordance with their
natural needs had a powerful appeal to nineteenth century Europeans beset
by the horrors of war and industrialization. In the Romantic Age of the
1830s, the life of the American Indian was perceived as possibly the
embodiment of the natural, innocent man sought by Europeans. Though this
ideal life never existed, nevertheless, the idea of the Indian living in a pure,
natural environment aroused the curiosity of explorers, scholars, and
travellers.25 The Romantic generations distortion of Rousseaus idea of
"natural man to "noble savage" exaggerated Rousseaus conception of the
savage as a strong, happy, healthy, intelligent form of humanity to mean an
idealized man of extraordinary sensibility.26 Curiosity about the nobility of the
Indian and the search for "natural man" became a powerful incentive for
scholars like Maximilian.
In addition to the influence upon Maximilian and Bodmer of the
theorists Blumenbach, Lavater and Morton, the French traveller, Alexis de
Tocqueville, in 1831, journeyed to America and expressed some poignant
observations about Indians. According to Tocqueville, while the Whites
wished to possess, exploit and own the land for tillage, settlement, and
industry, the Indians lived by hunting and revered the land as belonging to
the Great Spirits and owned by no one. Tocqueville agreed with Blumenbach
^Joshua Taylor, America as Art (New York: Harper & Row Publishers,
26The concept of natural man goes back to the idea of a Golden Age and
did not originate with J.J. Rousseau. Critics have confused "natural man" with
"noble savage" and blurred the conception of Rousseaus natural man which
became sentimentalized when it merged with Romantic thought. Hoxie Neale
Fairchild, The Noble Savage: A Study in Romantic Naturalism (New York:
Russell and Russell, 1961), 2-4, 137.
and Lavater when he stated that the Caucasian or White European stood
"superior in intelligence, in power, and in enjoyment" to the Indian.27 He also
believed that the Indian and the Blacks possessed specific physical
characteristics generic to their race.25 Cogently, he comments upon the
attributes and differences he observed between Indian and Blacks. He
assumed distinctive features of race were one difference. He wrote,
Oppression has been no less fatal to the Indian than to the Negro race,
but its effects are different. .. The lot of the negro is placed on the
extreme limit of servitude, while that of the Indian lies on the uttermost
verge of liberty. ,.29 31
These two unhappy races have nothing in common, neither birth nor
features, nor language, nor habits. Their only resemblance lies in their
Tocqueville observed a difference in Indian and Black response to
white domination. The Indians, Tocqueville observed, "became more
barbarous as they became more wretched."57 Contrastingly, the Blacks
27Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America. The Henry Reeves text,
Phillips Bradley, ed. (New York: Vintage Books, 1957), 344.
^Ibid. 345, 346.
31 Ibid., 346.
became more servile as they became more miserable.-32 He observed that the
Europeans had not been able to subdue the Indians nor change their
character. The pride and strength that the Indians felt in their own culture
prevailed in spite of constant encroachment by Whites and attempts to
change them. In effect, according to Tocqueville in 1831, Whites and Indians
stood "worlds apart" in their values and beliefs.-3-3
In some instances, Maximilian described the Indian as "uncivilized"
and "savage" and seemingly failed to appreciate a different concept of the
land and religious belief from those of the European.-34 Tocqueville, also,
considered that Indian culture was based on instinct and felt they had little
except courage to combat white plans for encroachment. Speaking of the
Indian he exclaims ". he loves his savage life as the distinguishing mark of
his race."-35 Tocqueville speaks of the Indians firm idea of his own identity:
The native of North America retains his opinions and the most
insignificant of his habits with a degree of tenacity that has no parallel
in history. ... the Indian has no feeling of inferiority towards
^^e phrase "worlds apart" describes White and Indian cultures on
permanent exhibit at the Colorado State Museum, Denver.
^Tocqueville, 347, 356.
35Ibid., 346, 347.
3<5Ibid. 347, 360.
Although he referred principally to the Woodland Indians, Tocqueville
proclaimed the tenacity and self esteem of the Indian as unique and positive
traits which distinguished them from Europeans and Blacks.
In contrast to the Blacks, Tocqueville stated that the Indian "has his
imagination inflated with the pretended nobility of his origin" and lives and
dies in the midst of these dreams of pride.57 He believed that the Indian of
the Plains could never be civilized since civilization was contingent on a
settled life, not a nomadic one like the tribes of the Plains.55 Tocquevilles
perceptive views on Indians, expressed a year before Maximilians journey,
were probably unknown to the Prince for there had been little time for
Tocquevilles views to be assimilated or responded to by scholars.
Nevertheless, in spite of lack of exposure to Tocquevilles writings on Indians,
the views of the expedition, in effect, confirmed Tocquevilles idea of Indian
pride in their culture and feeling of inferiority toward no one.
Before we turn to Bodmers portraits specifically, we must ask the
question, who were the important painters of Indians who preceded Bodmer,
and how were they regarded by the Prince and other critics? Unable to find
"good representations" of the American Indian in Philadelphia book shops,
Maximilian referred to "a fine work with coloured lithographic plates" of
Indian chiefs which Thomas L. McKenny, the former Superintendent of
Indian Affairs, was considering publishing.-79 In the Princes opinion the
McKenny portrait collection, later to be published in folio form, represented
the finest paintings of Indians completed to date.* 40 Three American painters
were responsible for these portraits: B.J.F. de Saint-Memin in Philadelphia,
James Otto Lewis in Wisconsin, but the majority were painted by Charles
Bird King in Washington.47 Though at the time of Maximilians visit to
Philadelphia, McKenny was in the process of transporting the portraits from
Washington to Philadelphia, "it seems probable, that Bodmer saw some of
these Indian portraits" which may have served as models for his own work.42
These portraits were especially attentive to details of ethnography. In
addition, the "folio series format" of McKennys three volume study The
Indian Tribes of North America and Biographical Sketches and Anecdotes of
the Principal Chiefs appears a major influence on the Prince since he
^Goetzmann and others, 7.
followed the same format when he published his atlas and commentaries on
his own travels to North America.* 45
In the history of painting Plains Indians, Kings detailed portraits
may have served as models and were considered "excellent likenesses."44 King,
who had studied with Benjamin West, was an accomplished artist and defined
facial features with confidence. Earlier, in 1804, Saint Memin had executed
the earliest known portraits of Plains warriors which expressed "fine
draftsmanship" especially in his modeling of the heads.45 But neither Saint-
Memin nor Lewis who painted a large number of portraits in McKennys
collection included the detail of Kings portraits. Another accomplished artist,
John Neagle, whose portrait of an Omaha Chief (1826) Morton included in
his frontispiece to Crania Americana (1839), was also a fine painter of
Indians and one who paid close attention to physiognomy. Before 1832, King
and Neagle preceded Bodmer as artists of Indians who excelled in precise
45Goetzmann and others, 7.
^Frances Trollope evaluated them as such. John Ewers, Artists of the Old
West (Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Co., 1965), 49.
Fig. 1.1. Charles Bird King, Petalesharo. Skidi Pawnee Hero. 1821,
Oil. The White House Collection, Washington, D.C. Ewers, Artists of
the Old West. 44.
Fig. 1.2. B.J.F. Saint-Memin, Chief of the Little Osages. 1804. Crayon.
The New York Historical Society. John C. Ewers, Artists of the Old
West (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Co., 1965), 15.
Fig. 13. John Neagle, Big Elk, Omaha Head Chief. 1821. Lithograph
after an oil. New York Public Library from Ewers, Artists of the Old
Still another traveler to the Upper Missouri in 1832, the American
painter, George Catlin explored this region a year earlier than Maximilian
and Bodmer. Like Tocqueville, Catlin believed that soon Indian culture would
become extinct and he wished to capture the life and spirit of the Plains
Indians before they were destroyed by white conquest. In St. Louis, Bodmer
viewed Catlins paintings of the Indians of the Upper Missouri before he and
the Prince journeyed north. Since Catlin painted a few of the same Indians as
Bodmer and because often his portraits are compared with Bodmers, it
seems appropriate to comment briefly upon his portraiture.
Generally, the self-taught Catlin searched into the inner being and
personality of his subjects and successfully captured the essence of the
individual Indian. He glorified the benign beauty and spirit of the Indians as
a race and characterized them as handsome people exploited by the Whites.
By comparison, Bodmer, trained as watercolorist and engraver, described the
faces and bodies of his Indians precisely and in fine line, but concentrated
more heavily than Catlin on detailed representation of facial features,
physique, body adornment, weaponry, clothing textures, and decorative
designs. Maximilian was not favorably impressed with Catlins "bad"
portraits.46 A striking difference in technical competence existed between the
46Goetzmann and others, 362.
Fig. 1.4. George Catlin, Mah-To-Toh-Pa. 1832. Oil on Canvas from
Royal B. Hassrick, The George Catlin Book of American Indians
(New York: Watson-Guptill Publications, 1977), 142.
two artists. Bodmers exceptional mastery of form and texture resulted in an
almost photographic realism in portraying such textures as hide, hair, fur and
In his precise rendering of physical attributes, objects and textures
Bodmer reflects the realistic branch of Romanticism, as for example, does the
work of John Constable. Both Bodmer and Constable represent a strong
commitment to the realistic interpretation of natural phenomena as a
fundamental intention of romantic art. In contrast, Catlin might be regarded
as an "emotional romantic" because of his subjective interpretation of reality.
Nevertheless, the undeniable superiority of Bodmers technical control over
that of Catlins permitted Bodmer greater flexibility. Catlin, more limited in
technique confined himself in portraiture to what he did best, developing
Within the conventions of European portraiture, this study contends
that Bodmers portraits presented the Indians as noble, dignified people
respected for their individuality and appreciated for their human qualities
and natural abilities. Bodmers Indians were far from the inferior,
degenerative race that Blumenbach supposed nor were they incapable of
delicate feelings or mentally weak as Lavater believed. Neither were they the
idealized Indian of the Romantics. Though the Prince did not directly respond
to the racial theories of Blumenbach, Lavater or Tocqueville, Bodmers visual
images supplemented by the words in the journal manifest a positive view of
Indians as individuals of intelligence and talent.
PHYSICAL AND PERSONALITY CHARACTERISTICS
The Profile Portrait
The relationship of body and mind has fascinated artists for
centuries. At the time of the High Renaissance, the purpose of portraiture
shifted from a representation of the outward form to a psychological analysis
of character.7 By the early nineteenth century the idea that the face reveals
an inner reality had become a fundamental assumption in portraiture. In
effect, Bodmers portraits considered as physiognomic studies, fulfill both
ancient and modern functions: they provide an excellent likeness and, in
many cases, a penetrating character analysis. Quite naturally, Bodmers style
developed from the conventions of Europe and the portraits of painters like
West, Ingres, and Gericault which he adapted to meet his own needs and
that of the American experience.
7John Pope-Hennessey, The Portrait in the Renaissance (New York:
Pantheon Books, Inc., 1966), 62-63.
Within the history of portraiture, artists representing Egyptian gods,
Roman emperors on coins and eighteenth century silhouettes employed the
profile as a convenient technique to gain a quick likeness of individual
features.2 Saint-Memin and other early 19th century Indian portraitists used
a physiognotrace, a wooden device helpful in capturing a likeness, to rapidly
trace a profile onto paper and record distinctive head and facial features.3
Frequently, Bodmer used the profile as a method to record outward facial
and bodily features and to set in relief particular physical characteristics. Of
the approximately eighty Indian portraits, Bodmer painted seventeen in
profile and seven more nearly in profile. Deliberately, Bodmer chose this
view to emphasize individual features.4 Similarly, when he recorded
distinctive characteristics of animals, such as The Head of an Antelope, often
Bodmer sketched them in profile.5 Blumenbach, when describing "The
American Variety" [American Indian], said about the face "its parts, if seen
3John C. Ewers, Artists of the Old West (Garden City, New York:
Doubleday & Co., 1965), 16.
4The number of profile views was estimated from William H.
Goetzmann and others, Karl Bodmers America (n.p. Joslyn Art Museum
and University of Nebraska Press, 1984).
5Profile views of the head of an antelope, buffalo, bighorn sheep, crane,
porcupine and vulture show a partiality to this posture for illustration of
distinctive characteristics in the zoological world.
/) /#-$<$. V
^ A '
Fig. 2.1. Karl Bodmer, Head of an Antelope. Watercolor on paper.
William H. Goetzmann, David C. Hunt, Marsha V. Gallagher, and
William J. Orr, Karl Bodmers America (n.p. Joslyn Art Museum and
University of Nebraska Press, 1984). PI. 181. Reproduced, with
permission, Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, Nebraska.
in profile, [are] very distinct, and as deeply chiseled."6 Since according to
Goetzmann, Maximilian hoped to collect evidence which would illuminate
Blumenbachs hypothesis about the Indian as an evolutionary or degenerate
form of humanity, Blumenbachs attention to the distinct profile may account
further for the abundance of this posture among Bodmer portraits.
Initially, we turn to a group of paintings I call the profile portrait,
to discover what they reveal about the outward form and inward nature of
the Indian. When the Prince first saw the Indians he described them as
"robust, good-looking men, tall and well proportioned, with strongly marked
features, high cheek bones, aquiline noses and animated dark hazel eyes."7
Look, for example, at Bodmers likeness of one of the first Indians
Maximilian observed in March 1833. With much interest, the Prince studied
a Sauk Man, portrayed in Massika and Bodmer painted him in profile,
probably to afford a clear view of his head and facial features as well as
hairstyle and face painting. Like the portraits of animals, the distinct oval
head, slanted back forehead, small eyes, pointed nose, full lips and
6Earl W. Count, This Is Race: An Anthology Selected from the
International Literature on the Races of Man. Johann Frederick
Blumenbach, "On the Natural Variety of Mankind" (New York: Henry
Schuman, 1950), 35.
7Alexander Maximilian, Travels in the Interior of North America 1832-34
in Reuben Gold Thwaites, ed., Early Western Travels 1748-1846. trans.,
Hannibal Evans Lloyd (Cleveland: Arthur H. Clark Co., 1905), vol. 22, 284.
A,.. 2.0 fl-sr- WrAy /833. S'/-: t<*-9o
Fig. 2.2. Karl Bodmer, Massika. Sauk Man. Watercolor on paper.
Goetzmann and others, PI. 132. Reproduced, with permission, Joslyn
Art Museum, Omaha, Nebraska.
pronounced chin become sharply defined in this view deliberately chosen to
exhibit outward facial characteristics. Blumenbach described Indians thus,
"The shape of the forehead and head in many are artificially distorted."5 In
this posture the shape of the head and contour of the forehead become
clearly visible yet there is no evidence in the diary that validates
Blumenbachs speculation of artificial distortion. Nevertheless, the flattened
head, top and back, distinguish this man from those in later portraits of
other tribes and the slanted back forehead and pointed nose stand out as
prominent features of this Sauk man. The forehead and nose could not be
said to conform to Blumenbachs general description of short forehead and
apelike nose. The intent of this profile seems to be to illustrate distinctive
outward features of a particular tribe and man.
Maximilians interest in Blumenbachs theory of racial physiognomy
and the Princes likely exposure to Lavaters belief may have influenced
Bodmer to produce an abundance of profile views. The Prince stands on
record as questioning aspects of Blumenbachs general physical characteristics
of Indians. On an earlier expedition to Brazil in 1819, the Prince had
recorded Brazilian Indians whose head and skull shape, intellect and skin
color he studied carefully. From his experience with South American Indians
as compared with these of North America, he formed his own opinions of
general characteristics which differed substantially from Blumenbachs.9 Yet,
based on direct evidence, we may not conclude that the Prince had any
preconceived ideas about the relationship of facial features to natural talent
as Lavater believed. The Prince was only making an attempt to record what
he observed. While Maximilian hoped to find an answer to Blumenbachs
hypothesis concerning whether the Indian represented a degenerative race,
he never asserted a conscious commitment to Lavaters beliefs.
In the early nineteenth century research in anthropology and
comparative anatomy was in its infancy and scholars worked to inventory and
systematize information. In essence, Maximilians expedition engaged in the
process of collecting and cataloging a body of information to add to the
European storehouse of knowledge about natural history and native peoples.
On the other hand, the theorist Lavater, claimed he had found a direct
correspondence between facial features and racial and personality traits. In a
sense, he developed a pseudo-science at a time when objective evidence on
native peoples was sparse. It was only natural that the disciplined mind of
Maximilian, curious about general characteristics of Indians, would be
intrigued by Lavaters science of physiognomy.
^Maximilian, vol.22, 220.
Let us pursue this interest in Lavaters studies further. Compare,
for example, Bodmers Massika Sauk Man with Lavaters Profiles of Six
Heads which illustrate varieties of forehead configuration. Lavater believed
that foreheads were especially significant in denoting intellect. Also Lavaters
studies show his inclination toward the profile as a convenient view to
facilitate comparison and record individual differences. In much the same
manner, Bodmer chooses the profile not only to capture a quick likeness, but
also to exhibit similarities and differences. Lavaters profile No. 6 conforms
closely to that of Bodmers Sauk man and illustrates attention to a particular
configuration of the forehead. However, Bodmers interpretation implies
none of Lavaters conclusions that this forehead indicates an individual with
an easiness of transition from genius to madness.70 Clearly, in this portrait of
the Sauk there is no attempt to indicate personality or behavioral traits
associated with facial features and personality traits. The principal interest, in
addition to ethnography, appears only to describe the head and facial form
of the Sauk. 0
i0John Caspar Lavater, Essays in Physiognomy Designed to Promote the
Knowledge and Lives of Mankind (London: John Murray, 1789), vol. 1, 269;
vol. 2, 63.
Fig. 23. John Caspar Lavater, Six Heads. Engraving. Essays on
Physiognomy Designed to Promote the Knowledge and the Love of
Mankind: 800 Engravings. Accurately Copied: and Some Duplicates
Added from Originals (London: John Murray, 1789), vol. 2, pt. 1, PI.
81, opp. 87.
Early in his journey, Bodmer records two other profiles and the
Prince includes commentary on the behavior of these men. The first was
Kiasax. Piegan Blackfeet Man, a man who followed his intuition and saved
himself from disaster. The journal states that Kiasax traveled upstream from
Fort Clark to Fort Union and when disturbed by the large number of
unfriendly Indians, he turned back and returned safely to Fort Clark.
Because the young man acted on the basis of his feelings he avoided
personal disaster, unlike his companion who was shot by an enemy Cree
near Fort Union.77 In this case, the Prince showed interest enough to record
the incident of Indian behavior. He responded in a similar fashion, when he
described Ho-Ta-Ma, Ponca Man, noting that often this man was seen
participating in games with companions; Maximilian characterized him as a
person who enjoyed the company of others and exhibited a friendly nature.* 72
Thus, in some cases, when the Prince observed particular behavior or had
knowledge of the behavioral characteristics of individual Indians, he chose to
include this information in the journal.
Let us return, for a moment, to the portrait of Kiasax in order to
appreciate its significance as a physiognomic study or document of Indian
77 Maximilian, vol. 22, 367.
Fig. 2.4. Karl Bodmer, Kiasax. Piegan. Blackfeet Man. Watercolor on
paper. Goetzmann and others, PI. 257. Reproduced, with permission,
Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, Nebraska.
Fig. 2.5. Karl Bodmer, Ho-Ta-Ma. Ponca Man. Watercolor and pencil.
Goetzmann and others, PI. 175. Reproduced, with permission, Joslyn
Art Museum, Omaha, Nebraska.
physiology. Light focuses on the details of the face and upper chest,
particularly on the lower edge of the nostril, the full lips and the narrow eye
as well as the necklace and earrings. The straight nose and strong line of the
jaw, further illumined by the red face paint, call attention to the facial angle.
(The facial angle was an angle formed by drawing an imaginary diagonal line
down the forehead and nose, level with the lower jaw, and then up along the
lower jaw line.) The size of the facial angle was an important measurement
for Blumenbach and Lavater. According to Maximilian, Blumenbach believed
that a small facial angle was a distinguishing characteristic of the Indian.
Maximilian disagreed and instead concurred with Thomas Say, the respected
American naturalist, who declared that "the facial angle is not so small as
Professor Blumenbach supposes."75 If the Prince wished to add information
to Blumenbachs theory it would seem important that the facial angle be a
recorded feature of his study. Perhaps this provides another reason why
there were so many profile views among the portraits. Similarly, Lavater
discussed facial angle as a significant feature of the face.7** For example, the
portrait of Henry Fuseli exhibits a small facial angle and actually, one that
nearly corresponds to that of the Sauk. In this case, the small facial angle
does not seem to be restricted to the Indian and confirms Maximilian and 74
75Maximilian, vol. 23, 256, note 214.
74Lavater, vol. 2, pt. 1, 25, 31, 32.
HEW MY FUSE El.
Fig. 2.6. J. C. Lavater, Henry Fuseli. Engraving. Vol. 2, Pt. 2, PI. 86,
Says viewpoint. In the portrait of Kiasax it would appear that facial features
and facial angle as an attribute of race or tribe were an important
consideration for portraiture but there is no evidence in this portrait to
support a correlation of facial features with character.
In the case of the Ho-Ta-Ma. Ponca Man. Bodmer carefully defines
in strong line, the long sloping forehead, slender pointed nose, full lips and
prominent chin. Neither forehead nor nose follow Blumenbachs description.
The receding forehead was a feature both Say and Lavater emphasized in
their analysis of the skull. The Prince believed that Say, who generally gave
"a very accurate description of the North American Indians" overemphasized
the character of the forehead.75 White face paint at the hairline leads the
viewer to the corner of the narrow eye as the center of interest. The eye
gazes off into space and conveys a feeling of serenity. In the Ponca Man,
Bodmer not only highlights strong exterior facial features but also suggests an
inner quality of tranquility. While the viewer would be hard pressed to
ascertain the mans friendly gregarious nature solely from the portrait and
must rely on the words of the journal, Bodmer, by line and color, does
penetrate beyond surface features to suggest the composure of the inner
75Maximilian, vol. 23, 327.
A pair of portraits of particular interest for this study of profiles is,
Homachseh-Katatohs. or "Great Star" and an Unidentified Man. When we
compare the noses ludicrously we note that two more different noses could
hardly be found. In a sense these features appear exaggerated or the
portraits almost resemble caricature. However, the fact that Maximilian or
Bodmer selected two individuals with such contrasting features supports their
strong commitment to document a wide variety of individual features and
diverse countenances among the Indians.
Might Bodmer or Maximilian also have been curious about any
correlation between facial features and personality traits as Lavater asserted?
For a moment, let us compare the long hooked nose of "Great Star" with
the bulbous nose of the "Unidentified Man" and the tight set lips of the
former as compared with the more relaxed full lips of the latter. Now look
at #3, Choleric, from Lavaters Four Temperaments and notice the similarity
in nose and features of the mouth to "Great Stars" hooked nose and tight
lips with lower lip more prominent. Lavater correlated facial features of
hooked nose, tight lips and protruding lower lip with an irascible
temperament/6 In the diaries, Maximilian failed to comment on the 76
76Lavater, vol. 1, pi. 10, opp. 254.
Fig. 2.7. Karl Bodmer, Homachseh-Katotohs. Pieean Blackfeet Man.
Watercolor on paper. Goetzmann and others, PL 253. Reproduced,
with permission, Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, Nebraska.
Fig. 2.8. Karl Bodmer, Unidentified Man. Watercolor on paper.
Goetzmann and others, PI. 254. Reproduced, with permission, Joslyn
Art Museum, Omaha, Nebraska.
Fig. 2.9. J. C. Lavater, Four Temperaments. Vol.l, PI. 10, 254.
temperament of "Great Star" but does state that Bodmer persuaded the
Indian to remove his European plumed hat prior to his portrait sitting. If the
incident suggests any evidence of temperament it shows that "Great Star" was
an individual open to change since he accommodated his appearance to
please the artist. Whether he was "choleric" or angry, as Lavater would
conclude, we do not know, but if judged by his willingness to comply with
the artists request one would believe that he was anything but choleric and
rather an individual who wished to please. Granted, we can only speculate
on the personality of "Great Star" from very sparse evidence. It would seem
that Bodmers interpretation shows more interest in recording the
extraordinary profile and facial features of this man than he was absorbed in
revealing personality traits.
Similarly, notice the shape of the nostril and rounded end of the
nose of "Unidentified Man" as well as his large full lips. Compare this profile
with drawing #2 "Phlegmatic" from Lavaters essays. Is there not a striking
correspondence, especially of the nose? Yet the phlegmatic temperament or
any particular disposition of this individual is not mentioned in the journal.
The point is that since Maximilian and Bodmer probably were aware of
Lavaters beliefs they may have included in their own study evidence that
might be useful in supporting or rejecting his theory. In this case, the artist
fully defined the squinted brow, the shape of the shadow below the eye and
the shadows of the cheek in an effort to physically describe the full, rounded
face but also to suggest a thoughtful introspection on the part of the
individual Indian. But in the portrait of Unidentified Man, like that of Kiasax
and the Ponca Man, the painter also gives a suggestion of inner feeling. The
expression of feeling derived directly from facial features supports Lavaters
notion of a direct correspondence between exterior form and interior reality.
In one of his most remarkable profiles, the portrait of Pioch-Kiaiu.
Piegan Blackfeet Man. "Distant Bear," unquestionably, Bodmer exhibits the
importance of the physiognomy.77 This finely chiseled profile calls attention,
particularly, to the long and protruding chin, "an unusual Indian feature."* 75
Validation in the journal for this peculiar Indian characteristic demonstrates
further the Princes concern with particular physical traits and their
relationship to Blumenbachs description of general Indian characteristics,
such as, "chiseled profile" or "small facial angle." Typical of Bodmer, the
strong lines of the profile and the careful delineation of prominent facial
features such as cheek wrinkles and the protruding vein of the forehead, lead
us to the eye as the center of interest. The details of large ear, lined skin,
squinting eye, large bony nose, small tight lips and pointed chin identify this
77Maximilian defined physiognomy as distinctive tribal and racial
75Maximilian, vol. 23, 143.
Fig. 2.10. Karl Bodmer, Pioch-Kiaiu. Blackfeet Man. Watercolor on
paper. Goetzmann and others, PI. 252. Reproduced, with permission,
Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, Nebraska.
individual as a particular older man. The uniqueness of the individual
prevails, a central concept of Romantic art, and here Bodmer stresses above
all the particular features of this Indian man.
A knotted hair bundle and coup feather confirm the status of
"Distant Bear" as a medicine man and identify him as one who possessed
superior powers. But the profile alone conveys physical strength, due to bold
line and the enormous size of the figure. Compare the powerful profile of
Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres Male Torso. 1800 with that of "Distant
Bear." In the former portrait a feeling of human vitality is achieved by means
of strong light and careful modeling of the physique. One important
difference between the profiles of Ingres and Bodmer lies in the artists
intention to go within the character. In Pioch-Kiaiu, Bodmer leads the viewer
inside to experience something of the inner wisdom of a particular individual.
Ingres, on the other hand, achieves vitality primarily by strong contrasts in
light and dark and the power is entirely physical and generalized in nature.
In this instance Ingres fails to explore the inner character of the individual.
As an adherent of Classicism Ingres probably was not interested in the "inner
character" so much as a statement of a generalized ideal, derived from
Fig. 2.11. J. A. D. Ingres, Male Torso. 1800 Oil on canvas. Gaeton
Picon, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (New York: Skira-Rizzoli,
Precisely how does Bodmer suggest the inner person of "Distant
Bear"? First of all, the light from above shines on the hide bib reflecting
upward to the face; strongly he underlines the eye in red to call attention to
the entrance to the inner world. Second, the line created by the contrast in
blue gray face paint and reddish tan skin tone again leads us to the eye
which exhibits a keenness of vision associated with clear thought. Third, the
unusual color tones and subtle coordination of color creates a feeling of
mystery especially where the contrast is strongest in the dark shadows beside
and above the eyes. In at least three ways Bodmer leads us to the eye and
profile as central to interpretation of the inner man.
The pattern of color harmony, salmon, blue gray, rust and brown
draws the work together but appears artificial and almost too perfect to
conform to reality. Undoubtedly, this portrait was touched up or reworked,
as were others, in the preparation for aquatint engraving. But, beyond this,
the exquisite painting of the robe textures and human hair oppose the
smooth surfaces of the hide and skin in an all over pattern of rough and
smooth which surrounds the distinctive facial features of keen eye, prominent
nose and unusual, pointed chin. Unquestionably, Bodmer intensified the
effect of the extraordinary profile by skillful manipulation of contrasts in
color, line, and texture, and the subtle color harmony unites the work.
Women and Children
The next group of portraits demonstrates the expeditions broad
view of human nature. Bodmer painted only a few women, and clearly in
military societies such as those of the Plains Indians women held less status
than men. Nevertheless, Maximilian selected several women for portraits and
these are significant because they show a commitment to a wide sample of
Indians which included women regardless of their status within the society.
Certainly, early anthropologists exhibited a strong interest in how the shape
and size of womens features differed from those of men. Both Lavater and
Blumenbach concerned themselves with comparisons between the skulls of
men and women in respect to size, degree of facial angle and shape of the
head. The portraits of women and children also illustrate interest in tribal
physiognomy. Two portraits of the same Cree woman and a child portrait of
an Omaha boy call special attention to details of face and body. In another
instance, Maximilian speaks of "typical Sioux physiognomy" and, thereby,
validates his belief in the existence of traits common to a particular tribe.79
79The Prince chose a wood cut of a Yankton Sioux chief for his folio of
engravings as an example of "typical Sioux physiognomy." William
Goetzmann and others, Karl Bodmers America (n.p.: Joslyn Art Museum
and University of Nebraska Press, 1984), 187.
In excellent examples of physiognomic studies, consider two
portraits of a Cree woman, one head and shoulder painting in profile, the
other a three quarter view. Similar to the portraits of animals the profile
illuminates the elongated face, large jaw and facial angle; her broad chest
and low breasts characterize her as a matron. The brownish tan skin
represents a significant detail for skin color and how it varied from tribe to
tribe or person to person was an unanswered question at this time.20 Her
thick black hair placed in a braid over the ear facilitates an unobstructed
view of the head shape. Certainly earring, face painting, distinctive tattooing
and dress also fascinates the artist but in this painting, primarily, Bodmer
intended to show Cree tribal traits as evidenced by the womans profile pose
which dramatically describes individual facial features.
Contrast a second painting of this Cree woman which serves to
confirm the smaller size and features of women as compared with men. The
three quarter position permits a full view of her narrow eyes, set far apart
but not deep set. Her indented nose bridge, straight nose and full lips are
distinguishing features but, like the eyes, do not conform to Blumenbachs
description of the Indian. Obviously, ethnographic details of the elaborate
earring, tatoo design and dress with beaded yoke hold interest as well.
20Count, 33, 34.
Fig. 2.12. Karl Bodmer, Cree Woman. Watercolor and pencil on
paper. Goetzmann and others, PI. 267. Reproduced, with permission,
Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, Nebraska.
Fig. 2.13. Karl Bodmer, Cree Woman. Watercolor and pencil on
paper. Goetzmann and others, PI. 268. Reproduced, with permission,
Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, Nebraska.
Nevertheless, the broad, open face and full view of her features suggest a
woman of good health and a strong representative of her sex and tribe. By
means of profile and three quarter pose, precise delineation of facial
features and body form, Bodmer creates a physiognomic study which
describes the physical characteristics of a Cree woman.
Bodmer painted only two children in detail, an Omaha Boy and a
Blackfeet Assiniboin girl. These portraits, one in profile, the other full length
and nearly full view, contrast one another in style and intention. First of all,
selection of a child as subject attests to a broad vision of human nature since
at this time in traditional classical art, childrens physiques were considered
outside the range of subjects for serious anatomical studies because their
bodies were regarded as unformed, imperfect and less than ideal.
The painting Omaha Bov describes the head, facial features and
upper torso of a young boy. His head, turned in a straight profile, and his
body, nearly so, display his features dramatically. The flat topped and
rounded head, straight nose and full lips conform to a general configuration
of the Indian race as described by Blumenbach, yet the broad facial angle
and rounded forehead distinguish him from others of his race. The boys
plump, well nourished body gives evidence of care and attention and his
gesture of leaning slightly backward expresses a feeling of pride in the grand
Fig. 2.14. Karl Bodmer, Omaha Bov. Watercolor on paper.
Goetzmann and others, PI. 164. Reproduced, with permission, Joslyn
Art Museum, Omaha, Nebraska.
display of his physical body. The face, torso and right arm present an
anatomically strong and confident appearance and give an impression of
health and vitality. Inner qualities of strength and energy distinguish this
portrait of Omaha Bov where Bodmer goes beyond exterior form to suggest
In the only other child portrait, Blackfeet Assiniboin Girl, the artist
arranged the girl almost in full view and in a more relaxed pose than the
boy. Her clothes seem too large and have informally slipped off the shoulder.
The painting gives the impression of a young female child dressed like a
small adult. Her face displays the smaller features expected of a child and
her eyes engage the viewer, which is rare in Bodmer portraits. We notice
particularly her wide set eyes, long nose and large mouth set off by the short
straight black hair which frames her face. The artists intent appears first, to
present a female child and second, to show the fine details of her clothing,
decorations and body adornment. But in this painting concern for
physiognomic features appears less important than in Omaha Bov.
Deviant and Exceptional Personalities
In the 1820s with Gericaults paintings of the insane, emotionally
disturbed and imprisoned, there appeared an expanded appreciation of
human nature which fascinated some Romantic artists. Gericaults portraits,
" > >/..
Fig. 2.15. Karl Bodmer, Blackfeet-Assiniboin Girl. Watercolor on
paper. Goetzmann and others, PI. 205. Reproduced, with permission,
Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, Nebraska.
painted for his friend, Dr. Georget, a medical officer of the Salpetriere, an
institution for criminals and the mentally ill, may very well have been
physiognomic documents of patients with particular mental and emotional
disorders.27 If this were their intent, Gericaults portraits represent fine
examples of the prevalence of Lavaters ideas. In any event, Gericaults
interpretation represented a new attitude toward deviant and exceptional
personalities which acknowledged them as fellow human beings and worthy
subjects for portraiture.
Like Gericault, Bodmer painted some deviant and exceptional
personalities in the expeditions broad sample of Indians. Generally
"deformed persons were rare" at least, "among the Mandans," Maximilian
recorded.22 The portraits included, for example, a deaf mute, a man suffering
from an eye affliction, a potential murderer, a woman with a liver disease
and several examples of men grieving. It is important to recognize that such
subjects for portraiture were relatively rare and only beginning to emerge in
Europe with artists such as Goya and Gericault. It is significant that
Maximilian and Bodmer selected these subjects in their range of portraits
and that the Prince decided to include some in the folio of engravings. The
27Lorenz Eitner, Gericault (Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum
of Art, 1971), 169.
22Maximilian, vol. 23, 257.
portraits reflect not only a broad vision of human nature but represent
examples of some interior attributes of the Indian, universal human traits,
not previously appreciated by the European world.
The group of portraits called "Deviant and Exceptional
Personalities," occupies a central place in this analysis, for within this group,
Bodmer reveals inner feeling to a greater degree than in the two previous
categories. In the journal, also, the Prince verifies evidence of emotion
expressed by individual Indians when he records the behavior or personality
of these exceptional persons. Inner feeling, the prime interest of Romantic
artists, becomes more apparent in the following Bodmer portraits of deviant
and exceptional personalities than any group of portraits we shall consider. I
will turn, now, to a discussion of these paintings with some comparisons to
Gericaults portraits, and in relation to Blumenbachs and Lavaters study.
A Mandan deaf mute, the subject in Mahchsi-Nihka. one of two
brothers who conversed in sign language arrived at Maximilians and
Bodmers residence "enraged" and making "angry gestures."23 Evidently,
Bodmer had portrayed him in a "mean dress" while he had represented
^Maximilian, vol. 24, 68.
Fig. 2.16. Karl Bodmer, Mahchsi-Nihka. Mandan Man. Watercolor,
ink, and pencil on paper. Goetzmann and others, PI. 312.
Reproduced, with permission, Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, Nebraska.
others in their most elegant robes.24 Since the Indian felt discriminated
against in this regard, the Mandan expressed his outrage strongly and
Maximilian stated in his diary "I was afraid that the half witted, uncivilized
man would attack the artist."25 Notwithstanding, later fully composed, the
Mandan stood proudly for his portrait which the Prince chose to include in a
group of figures in the atlas. Although the Prince lashed out in defense of
the artist and labeled the deaf mute as "half-witted" and "uncivilized" he also
noted that this man and his brother were "strong and good natured men,"
loyal and hard working hunters.26 Apparently Maximilian depended on them
for his meat supply during the severe winter of 1834 and the Prince valued
him for his redeeming qualities of strength, industry and usual good humor.
In some cases the Prince interpreted Indian behavior as negative such as
"half witted" and "uncivilized" and this might be part of a more general
prejudice against the handicapped.
In the portrait of Mahchsi-Nihka the artist focuses our attention on
the face as the center of interest. Contrasts in color between the blackened
face and the white of the eyes and between the dark face and red lips lead
26Ibid., vol. 24, 70.
us directly to his visage. Light concentrated on the intense eyes and on the
large, strong mouth carefully defines these features and attention to the
shape and value of the eye shadows convey a message that this feature holds
mysterious power. The intensity of the eyes with much white surrounding
them may recall Gericaults Portrait of a Kidnapper. 1822, in which the
strong light and dark contrast also directs the viewer to the eyes and to the
inner feelings of the man. Certainly, such extremes of emotional behavior as
represented by Gericault are not paralleled in this subject of Bodmers
physically disabled man. Yet, Bodmer uses light in a similar manner to
Gericault, that is, to illuminate interior feeling. Though light more intensely
dramatizes the facial features in the case of the kidnapper than that of the
deaf mute, Bodmers attention to the power of light to convey inner reality
through sharp contrast allies him with the Romantic artist.
~In the black and white painting of Mahsette Kuiuab. a medicine
man suffering from an eye affliction, wisps of long black hair frame the white
face and a triangle of white forehead surrounded by dark hair draws
attention to the squinting eyes. The same technique of sharp black and white
contrast, as in the portrait of the deaf mute, directs our eye to the face and
though more moderate, it is similar to the method used by Gericault in his
series of the insane. Masses of wavy thick hair oppose in texture and line the
Fig. 2.17. Theodore Gericault, Portrait of a Kidnapper. (Monomanie
des Vol DEnfants. 1822. Oil. Museum of Fine arts, Springfield) The
James Phillips Gray Collection in Lorenz Eitner, Gericault (Los
Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1971) 169.
Fig. 2.18. Karl Bodmer, Mahsette-Kuiuab. Cree Chief. Pencil and
wash on paper. Goetzmann and others, PI. 265. Reproduced, with
permission, Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, Nebraska.
flat vertical lines of the tattooed chest to focus attention again on the
straining eyes and constricted forehead. The pain of muscle tension and eye
strain become highlighted in a common experience of human suffering.
Another portrait, one of a Shoshonean Woman also parallels
Gericaults interest in the exceptional personality and demonstrates not only
a commitment by the Prince and the painter to a broad sample of Indians in
their inventory but also to curiosity about skin color. "Shoshonean Woman"
portrays an individual whose facial skin appears a darker color than usual
due to a liver disease. Maximilian agreed with Alexander Humboldt, the
most famous European naturalist of the preceding century, that the brown
skin of the American is of different shades.27 Of course, in this example, the
darker color has a pathological cause. According to the journal she had given
birth to a baby in the morning and was up and about the same day.25 It
would seem that Maximilian designated this woman for portraiture because
of her extraordinary strength and unusually dark countenance. Her long
black hair frames a powerful face of large eyes, straight nose and large full
mouth. The oval head shape conforms closely to the profile of the Cree
woman, a general Indian characteristic observed by the Prince. Her eyes
^Goetzmann and others, 256.
Fig. 2.19. Karl Bodmer, Shoshonean Woman. Watercolor on paper.
Goetzmann and others, PL 259. Reproduced, with permission, Joslyn
Art Museum, Omaha, Nebraska.
stare out into space in a steady gaze and we associate her large, set jaw and
full mouth with strength and determination but also with suffering and pain.
Again, Bodmer concerns himself with a depiction of human feeling as well as
an accurate rendition of physical features.
But is it not true in most 19th century portraiture that the artist
manipulates facial expression or lines and shadows around eyes and mouth,
to suggest interior feeling? The famous sketch book of the 17th century
French painter, Charles Le Bran, was filled with physiognomic studies that
show how to connote character by varying facial expression and bodily
gesture.29 Shoshonean Woman illustrates Bodmers capacity to develop inner
feeling through modeling of facial features and attention to bodily gesture.
This connection between exterior and interior worlds seems consistent with
Lavaters theory that outward facial forms link inner reality. For an
inexperienced portraitist, Bodmer shows amazing ability to control line and
value to evoke feeling. Note the deep shadows beside the eye and the long
deep lines that ran from the right of the nose to below the mouth. Here, the
painter draws a correspondence between the outward features of staring
eyes, incised lines, full mouth, set jaw and the inner feelings of pain,
determination and strength. In this example, ethnographic detail is
29E. H. Gombrich, Art and Illusion (New York: Pantheon Books, Inc.,
subordinate to interest in physiognomy as Lavater defined the term, and
what primarily asserts itself is the internal power of a suffering human being.
The relationship of outer physical features to inner feeling is strong and the
concept of physiognomy would seem to nearly coincide with that of Lavater
and a direct correlation between particular facial traits and personality.
A key painting in our examination of the relationship of exterior
features to interior nature is the portrait of Mexkemauastan. an Atsina chief
and medicine man who had threatened to shoot the superintendent at Fort
McKenzie. The full length view of the chief with hands crossed over the
abdomen calls attention at once to his emotions and suggests by means of
gesture a tense and defensive position against white society. Accordingly, he
clutches a gun, obviously a trade item, supplemented by the traditional bow
and quiver of arrows visible from behind. Dramatically, the artist has
arranged that we look up at the illumined face of this troubled man.
Typically, light focuses on the eyes and nose made more intense by the
etched lines of the constricted brow and the broad shadow at the right of the
nose. Light and dark contrasts heighten the feeling of internal conflict.
Squinting eyes stare into space and slightly downward in despair and
underline a sense of internal distress. Reflected light from the white and blue
shell earrings conveys further mystery to the face and highlights the
unpredictable inner nature of this man. More than most Bodmer portraits,
Fig. 2.20. Karl Bodmer, Mexkemaustan. Atsina Chief. Watercolor on
paper. Goetzmann and others, PI. 241. Reproduced, with permission,
Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, Nebraska.
this one penetrates surface features to present a psychological interpretation
of the inner man which intrigues the viewer as to the exact nature of his
In the portrait of the Atsina, color also furnishes psychological
power. The all over reddish brown, red glow of the robe and quiver strap
and especially the more brilliant red face paint associate the chief with a
feeling of violence and danger. The artist suggests perhaps an internal anger
that accounts for his hostility toward the white superintendent. The line of
color contrast, red next to blue gray, draws attention to the large mouth as if
the chief had cause to speak in his own defense. Bodmers attitude of non-
judgment for the plight of the Indian as an accused man reminds us of
Gericault and his compassion for the insane. Here, Bodmer found a way to
explore the mysterious world of the irrational. By means of strong color
contrast Bodmer expresses the torment of this potential murderer.
Unusual among Bodmers Indian Chiefs, the Atsina poses plainly
attired in an unadorned robe except for a glimpse of the wolf trailer on his
moccasin and a suggestion of a beaded legging. His head rises in powerful
contrast to the stark background. Long shell earrings and medicine knot
piled high above the forehead are the only signs of tribal status. The portrait
disregards the chiefs war record and chooses instead to amplify his
personality as a worried, suffering human being. Here, unquestionably,
Bodmer wishes to emphasize the interior feelings of the man above
ethnographic considerations and along with physical attributes of tribe and
Consciously or unconsciously, Bodmer represents Mexkemauastan
respectfully as a dignified human being in spite of the contention that he was
a hostile and dangerous man. At the time of his posing he apparently
behaved in a friendly manner, according to Maximilian, and showed little
resistance to having his portrait painted.50 In posture he appears composed
and momentarily, at least, emotionally stable as signified by the strong arms
and shoulders in repose, feet apart and gaze undirected toward any specific
intent. Bodmer paints him not close up but at a respectful distance in order
to encourage our full appreciation of his outward form, gesture and inner
feelings. Concentration on color, light, and precise line direct attention to the
face and eyes, especially, as the most important elements of his demeanor.
Unlike the noble and aloof grandeur of Neoclassical portraits as, for
example, Ingres Portrait of Charles X in Coronation Robes. 1829, this
plainly clothed chief embodies inner turmoil that invites our compassion.
50Maximilian, vol. 23, 72-74.
Fig. 2.21. J. A. D. Ingres, Portrait of Charles X. in Coronation Robes.
1825. Oil on canvas. Georges Wilderstein, Ingres (London: Phaidon
Press, 1954), PI. 67.
Another example of deviant and exceptional personalities, a
Yankton Sioux Chief has lost some of his children by death. He quietly
mourns his loss. Within the range of Bodmer portraits Tukan-Haton. a
Yankton Sioux Chief becomes especially significant for our discussion
because of its capacity to express deep feeling. The portrait of the mourning
chief holds more in common with Romantic art of the day which focused on
emotion than it does with Neoclassical art which emphasized exterior form,
noble grandeur and surface texture. This work combines aspects of both
neoclassical and Romantic painting for the outward form of face and torso
exudes a serenity and nobility that balances the chiefs inner suffering. The
harmony of outer and inner worlds achieved by Bodmer unites the tension of
How does Bodmer express the feeling of this Yankton Sioux?
Because head, shoulders and chest assume well over half the space, the head
and heart immediately capture our attention. Deliberately, Bodmer
dramatizes the importance of the thinking and feeling centers of the body.
The size of head and chest declares that this is an intimate view of inner
feelings. Downcast eyes and a circle of light surrounding the eye directs the
viewer within to a place of deep sorrow. The robe thrown open and chest
laid bare signals vulnerability. Such exposure of the body is rare in Bodmers
work, yet it symbolizes the open wounded heart. The pose offers a clear
Fig. 2.22. Karl Bodmer, Tukan-Haton. Yankton Sioux Chief.
Watercolor on paper. Goetzmann and others, PI. 189. Reproduced,
with permission, Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, Nebraska.