Carl Bodmer’s Unspoiled West


The reference to Cooper recalls a curious epilogue to Bodmer’s adventures in the New World. In 1850 he accepted a commission from a visiting publisher from the United States to provide illustrations for several books of American fiction and history. Already overburdened with prior commitments, Bodmer hired Jean François Millet to fill the scenes with appropriate figures. Millet was then struggling for recognition and some escape from poverty. When the American publisher inadvertently discovered this unknown younger man doing so much of Bodmer’s work for him, he cancelled the contract.

However, from that abortive collaboration there survive a number of lithographs with such delightful titles as Deliverance des Filles de Daniel Boon [sic] et de Callaway, Poursuivis par des Peaux-Rouges , and Jeunes Filles Surprises par des Indiens —pictures in which frontiersmen and colonists resemble the stolid French peasants of Millet’s famed work of later years, and the wilderness backgrounds (by Bodmer) evoke the forests of Fontainebleau and the Bois de Boulogne. In subsequent years Millet’s star rose, and for more than a generation his Angelus and Song of the Lark ranked among the world’s most popular paintings. Bodmer’s fame went into almost total eclipse until his American scenes emerged from more than a century of oblivion.