Faces from the Interior: The North American Portraits of Karl Bodmer
10/2/2021 - 4/17/2022

The watercolors of Karl Bodmer (1809-1893) remain some of the most perceptive and compelling visual accounts of Native American life along the Missouri River in the early nineteenth century. During his excursion up the Missouri River in the company of Prince Maximilian of Wied in 1833-34, the Swiss artist met several Indigenous individuals who posed for portraits in their regalia. Bodmer's acute sensitivity of observation and his subtle and refined brushwork provide an unparalleled level of detail that make these portraits particularly notable.

Faces from the Interior is the first Museum project to focus exclusively on Karl Bodmer’s watercolor portraits of Native Americans. The exhibition features sixty-four recently-conserved watercolors, drawn entirely from Joslyn’s renowned Maximilian-Bodmer collection. This includes portraits of individuals from Omaha, Yankton, Lakota, Mandan, Hidatsa, Assiniboine, and Blackfoot tribes, among many Native communities encountered by Maximilian and Bodmer during their travels along the Missouri River from Saint Louis to Fort McKenzie, in present-day Montana. The installation will be complemented by a selection of Bodmer’s Missouri River landscapes and Native American village sites, placing viewers within the larger context of life on the High Plains.

Filmed interviews with Indigenous elders and cultural experts, including descendants of Bodmer’s sitters, will be featured throughout the exhibition. Interviewees provide invaluable insight into the lives of the men and women portrayed by Bodmer and the ongoing significance and challenges presented by these images of cultural encounter. Bodmer’s portraits record a time in Native history immediately before Euro-American settlement upended life and traditions on the Great Plains. In the words of one interviewee, Bodmer’s watercolors can “bring the story back,” and these films explore how Bodmer’s portraits might contribute to the reclamation of Native histories.

The exhibition’s accompanying catalogue is the first publication to focus on Bodmer as a portraitist. Catalogue essays examine Bodmer’s artistic practice within the context of nineteenth-century ethnography; the international dissemination of his images; and the ongoing significance of his work to Indigenous communities. Over fifty watercolor portraits are reproduced, accompanied by a selection of the artist’s landscapes and village sites.

Faces from the Interior was organized by the Margre H. Durham Center for Western Studies, Joslyn Art Museum, in association with The Metropolitan Museum of Art. In Spring 2021, the exhibition will be one of the first rotating installations to complement The Met’s new installation of The Charles and Valerie Diker Collection of Native American Art. The exhibition will return to Omaha in Fall 2021 and travel to the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, TX during the Fall of 2022.

What's Pictured: Karl Bodmer (Swiss, 1809–1893), Péhriska-Rúhpa, Hidatsa Man, 1834, watercolor and graphite on paper, 17 1/8 x 11 15/16 inches. Joslyn Art Museum, Gift of the Enron Art Foundation, 1986.49.275. Photograph © Bruce M. White, 2019.