Pehriska-Ruhpa. [Minatarri Warrior in the Costume of the Dog Dance.]. Tab. 23.

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KARL BODMER

Pehriska-Ruhpa. [Minatarri Warrior in the Costume of the Dog Dance.]. Tab. 23.

From Travels in the Interior of North America

Hand-colored aquatint engravings Paris, 1832-1843

Perhaps the greatest image to emerge from the picturing of the American West, and certainly Bodmer's most famous, this highly-charged portrait of Péhriska-Rúhpa ("Two Ravens") presents the warrior and chief of the Hidatsa in a way that encapsulates the vanished era of the Plains Indian. The portrait has a great sense of immediacy and intensity, of noise 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 colored sticks attached to the shafts of the turkey feathers. All this 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 such societies amongst the men of the Mandan and Hidatsa Tribes. They were one of the main tenets by which Hidatsa society was lived: as an individual progressed through life it was necessary for him to purchase his 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. They all had individual rules, rituals, dances, and regalia. All this information was carefully recorded by Prince Maximilian during the travellers' winter stop-over at Fort Clark in 1833-34; this portrait, Bodmer's masterpiece, was painted in March 1834 towards the end of this stay.  

FROM THE MOST ACCLAIMED BOOK ON AMERICAN INDIAN LIFE AND THE AMERICAN FRONTIER. Karl Bodmer was a little-known Swiss painter when he was chosen by Prince Maximilian of Prussia to accompany his voyage to America, in order to document in pictorial terms the expedition. With the rest of Maximilian’s company, the two traveled among the Plains Indians from 1832 to 1834, a time when the Plains and the Rockies were still virtually unknown. They arrived in the West before acculturation had begun to change the lives of the Indians, and Bodmer, who was a protegé of the great naturalist von Humboldt, brought a trained ethnologist’s eye to the task. The Bodmer/Maximilian collaboration produced a record of their expedition that is incontestably the finest early graphic study of the Plains tribes. Maximilian and Bodmer journeyed from St. Louis up the Missouri River on the American Fur Company steamboat “Yellowstone,” stopping at a series of forts built by the Fur Company and meeting their first Indians at Bellevue. The travelers continued on another steamboat, “Assiniboin,” to Fort Union, where they met the Crees and Assiniboins. The expedition spent its first winter at Fort Clark, where the Mandans in particular excited Bodmer’s attention, although he was also to draw the Minatarri and Crow peoples. The explorers continued by keelboat to Fort Mackenzie, which proved to be the westernmost point of their journey. After living among and studying the Blackfeet for several weeks, Maximilian decided that it was too dangerous to continue, so the travelers returned southward, reaching St. Louis in May 1834. After the conclusion of the journey, Bodmer spent four years in Paris supervising the production of the aquatints made from his drawings. These prints rank with the finest Western art in any medium, and they are the most complete record of the Plains Indians before the epidemics of the mid19th century had decimated their numbers, and before the white man’s expansion had taken their lands. In contrast to other artist-explorers of the 19th century, such as George Catlin, Bodmer was well-trained in the classic European tradition. The work that he did in America is considered to be the high point of a distinguished career. Perhaps more significant, the plates made from Bodmer's sketches were the first truly accurate images of the Plains Indians to reach the general public. Because the 1837 smallpox epidemic killed more than half the Blackfeet and almost all the Mandans, Bodmer’s visually striking work, together with prince Maximilian’s detailed studies of these tribes, form the primary accounts of what became virtually lost cultures. Bodmer’s magisterial work encompasses the most celebrated images of American Indian life from the 19th century