BODMER, Karl (1809-1893)
Péhriska-Rúhpa. Moennitarri Warrior in the Costume of the Dog Danse [sic.]
[Tab. 23] Paris, Coblenz and London: [1839-1842]. Aquatint engraving, printed in colour and finished by hand, by René Rollet after Bodmer, blindstamp to lower margin. Sheet size: 20 5/8 x 15 13/16 inches.
Bodmer's most famous portrait and the greatest image to emerge from the picturing of the American West.
The portrait has a great sense of immediacy, intensity, and movement; a moment in time is captured, when we look away the Dog Dance continues. Péhriska-Rúhpa dances in his regalia as a principal leader of the Dog Society of his village. The white tips on the glossy black feathers of the headdress indicate the attachment of a tiny down feather to the point of each plume, the central vertical plume is painted red. Dyed horse hair floats from coloured sticks attached to shafts of turkey feathers. All will shortly be in motion again as the dancer resumes his movement to the cadence of drum and the rattle (made of small hooves or dewclaws attached to a beaded stick) held in his right hand. The Dog Society was one of seven societies among the men of the Mandan and Hidatsa tribes. As an individual member of the tribe progressed through life, he achieved entry into successive societies, starting with "the foolish dogs" at about ten to fifteen years of age and graduating to the society of the black-tailed deer for men over fifty. The Dog Society was the fourth of these progressions. Each society had a set number of members, so that an individual from a lower society could only buy entry to the higher society if there was a member of that society who was himself ready to move to the society above his. Each society had its own rules, rituals, dances and regalia. All this information was carefully recorded by Prince Maximilian during the travellers' winter stop-over at Fort Clark in 1833-1834. This portrait, Bodmer's masterpiece, was painted in March 1834 toward the end of that stay. Karl Bodmer's images show great versatility and technical virtuosity and give us a uniquely accomplished and detailed picture of a previously little understood (and soon to vanish) way of life. Swiss-born Bodmer was engaged by Prince Maximilian zu Wied-Neuwied (1782-1867) specifically to provide a pictorial record of his travels in North America, principally among the Plains Indians. In the company of David Dreidoppel (Prince Maximilian's servant and hunting companion), their travels in North America were to last from 1832 to 1834. Well-armed with information and advice, the party left St.Louis aboard the steamer Yellow Stone on April 10, 1833. They proceeded up the treacherous Missouri River along the line of forts established by the American Fur Company. At Bellevue, they encountered their first Indians, then went on to make contact with the Sioux tribe, learning of and recording their little known ceremonial dances and powerful pride and dignity. Transferring from the Yellow Stone to another steamer, the Assiniboin, they continued to Fort Clark, visiting there the Mandan, Mintari and Crow tribes, then the Assiniboins at Fort Union, the main base of the American Fur Company. On a necessarily much smaller vessel they journeyed through the extraordinary geological scenery of that section of the Missouri to Fort Mackenzie in Montana, establishing a cautious friendship with the fearsome Blackfeet. From this, the westernmost point reached, it was considered too dangerous to continue and the return journey downstream began. The winter brought its own difficulties and discomforts, but Bodmer was still able to execute numerous studies of villages, dances and especially the people, who were often both intrigued and delighted by his work. The portraits are particularly notable for their capturing of individual personalities, as well as forming a primary account of what was to become virtually lost cultures.
Graff 4648; Howes M443a; Pilling 2521; Sabin 47014; Wagner-Camp 76:1.