Pulled from the original steel and copper plates, engraved in Paris between 1836 and 1843 under Karl Bodmer's direction, after the artist's own watercolours drawn from nature during the journey.
The engravings are hand-printed in colours, à la poupée, with extensive hand-colouring and some application of gum arabic, in the nineteenth-century manner.
Engraved by Tavernier
Printed by Bougeard
Bodmer's portrait of a Cree chief, Mahsette-Kuiuab, also known as Le Sonnant by French traders on the upper Missouri, represents a man he met at Fort Union in October, 1833, on the return voyage downriver. A powerful chief and respected medicine man, Mahsette-Kuiuab also was widely known as a prophet among the Cree and neighboring tribes.
He apparently suffered from an eye disorder, and Bodmer depicted him in an initial study with a noticeable squint. The subsequent aquatint indicates more clearly that his right eye was filmed over, possibly by a cataract. The extensive tattooing on his body is a distinctive feature of this portrait. Practised by both men and women of the Cree tribe, and also to some extent among the Mandan and the Hidatsa, tattooing primarily was decorative, although it could also have religious significance or indicate social or military rank.
Neither Maximilian nor Bodmer could be said at this point to have been inspired by any romantic sentiments regarding the native tribes of North America. Maximilian was anything but a "romantic," while Bodmer's portraits on the upper Missouri were objectively portrayed, with great attention being paid to specific, anthropological details. The later aquatints produced in Europe were presented in a more dramatic vein, for the most part, incorporating a sense of action and passion which may have misled some modern scholars to suppose that Bodmer was as much of a "romantic" as his contemporaries George Catlin or Alfred Jacob Miller.
Bodmer's Indian subjects, as represented in his initial studies and watercolors at Joslyn, were done with the same precision as his drawings of natural history specimens. Only in a few of his landscapes can one discover something of the emerging, romantic nature of the artist, which became increasingly apparent in his later European works.
A woman of the Cree tribe is pictured in Tableau 33 of this series with a Snake or Shoshoni woman.
For other subjects painted at Fort Union, see Vignettes XV, XVI and Tableaux 9, 12, and 28 through 33.
Text by David Hunt, Director, Stark Museum, Orange, Texas, USA