The Maximilian-Bodmer Expedition: Travels in the Interior of North America, 1832-1834

In 1832 Prince Maximilian, a German nobleman and naturalist, and Karl Bodmer, a Swiss artist, embarked on a voyage of discovery up the Missouri River for the purpose of documenting the flora, fauna, and native inhabitants of North America. Bodmer was employed by Prince Maximilian to make detailed, accurate drawings of what the two men saw on their expedition, to be used upon their return to Europe to generate the printed illustrations for Maximilian’s atlas, Travels in the Interior of North America, 1832 – 1834.

As they journeyed across the United States, Maximilian recorded numerous insightful observations about the young nation. His diary records the life, rituals and languages of native peoples of the Missouri River valley from St. Louis to Montana, tribes such as the Omaha, Sioux, Assiniboin, Blackfoot, Mandan, and Minatarre (commonly known as Hidatsa). Bodmer’s work vividly reflects the landscapes, wildlife, frontier settlements, Indian villages, and peoples described in Maximilian’s diaries. Together, Maximilian and Bodmer’s written and visual documentation constitute an invaluable record of the upper Missouri frontier.

Maximilian and Bodmer took their journals and images home to Europe, where Bodmer spent several years supervising the engraving and printing process. These original printing plates were later discovered by an anthropologist at Castle Wied, where they eventually found their way to the United States, and into the safekeeping of the Joslyn Art Museum.

The Maximilian-Bodmer Expedition: Travels in the Interior of North America, 1832-1834, an exhibition that will tour around Nebraska in 2013, features selections from a new 20th century edition of spectacular hand-colored engravings, printed in 1989 by Joslyn Art Museum in partnership with Alecto Historical Editions in London, struck from the original ca. 1840 plates created by Swiss artist Karl Bodmer. The show exhibits 40 framed prints, assembled from the eighty-one prints in the new edition of Bodmer’s images. The exhibition will travel to venues throughout Nebraska during 2013. Funding for this project has been generously provided by the Nebraska Arts Council, Richard P. Kimmel and Laurine Kimmel Charitable Foundation, and The Nebraska Cultural Endowment.