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Bodmer, Karl New Harmony on the Wabash, 1842


Karl Bodmer was a native of Switzerland and trained with his uncle, an engraver and watercolorist. In his early twenties, Bodmer came to the United States with Prussian Prince Maximilian zu Wied-Neuwied. Prince Maximilian visited Indiana—including New Harmony and Vincennes—at various times between 1832 and 1834 to gather information for a book, which Bodmer illustrated.

Prince Maximilian was a naturalist drawn to the unspoiled wilderness of the United States, like many Europeans of the day. He took more than a thousand pages of notes, and Bodmer created hundreds of sketches and watercolors of the people and places they saw. Their work is historically important because it combined the skills of a trained artist and an experienced scientist. The book was published in Paris as Reise in das innere Nord-Amerika in den Jahren 1832 bis 1834 (Travels in the Interior of North America 1832–1834).

  • New Harmony on the Wabash, 1842
  • 11 3/4″ x 17 1/4″ (a separately issued proof)
  • Indiana Historical Society
  • Keywords: engravings, natural landscapes, color aquatint, hand coloring
  • Subjects: outdoors, trees, streams, wild animals

This engraving appeared in Prince Maximilian’s book about his travels, published in 1839–1841. This is a documentary work, but the scene is depicted in a romantic way. The color scheme is basically complementary, using red and green. There is also the contrast of light and shade, especially in the trees, a technique called chiaroscuro. The composition of the work leads the viewer’s eye in a Z path. The wild pigs in the foreground get first notice, and the path they are on moves to the right. This path directs the eye back to the stream. The eye then moves with the stream to the right, on the last segment of the Z, to the town. In his work, Bodmer often portrayed civilization in contrast with nature.

Some Points To Consider

  • Explain to students that one of the career choices available to a skilled artist is to illustrate stories. Karl Bodmer’s early training prepared him to be the first person to illustrate Indiana. (Art 4.1.4) Ask students what they think the function of engravings like this might be. Do they think Bodmer created them to entice people to come to Indiana, or to draw an accurate record of what he saw here? How would people living elsewhere perceive Indiana based on these drawings? (Art 4.1.2)
  • Ask students to look at the vegetation in the engravings. Have them explain why they think it looks realistic (technical) or romantic (expressive). Do they think New Harmony looks like this today? Why or why not? (Art 4.3.1)