Online Artist Archive
b. 1806; d. 1834
Discipline: Drawing/Illustration, Painting
When talk turns to artists of the Upper Missouri, Peter Rindisbacher doesn't quite fit. He's worth noting, however, because he was a skilled artist, and he was working in what would become North Dakota a decade before George Catlin arrived in Fort Union in 1832.
Like Karl Bodmer and Rudolf Frederich Kurz, Rindisbacher was born in Switzerland. In 1821, at 15 years of age, Rindisbacher came to the Earl of Selkirk's Colony. He had one summer of art training in Switzerland before coming to the Red River Valley. He worked primarily in watercolor.
His subjects were the Chippewa and Metis people living along the Red River, which forms the eastern boundary of North Dakota.
North Dakota History, journal of the State Historical Society of North Dakota, published an article on Rindisbacher in its Summer 1997 issue written by Johannes W. Vazulik.
"Among his achievements, Rindisbaucher is credited with the first known depictions by an artist of North American tipi interiors," Vazulik writes.
His work shows strong movement and drama. His figures are expressed in idealized forms.
"It was Rindisbacher's customary practice throughout his professional life to prepare pen-and-ink sketches, meticulously recording the details of his subject in very fine pen point. He would later copy the sketches in soft, well-blended color, changing details to create multiple versions. Watercolor was his preferred medium. He is said to have disliked the 'smeary' quality of oil," writes Vazulik.
He worked at a relatively small scale, typically 15 by 9 inches.
He also painted miniatures and landscapes.
Rindisbacher died in St. Louis in 1834 at the age of 28. The cause of death is unknown.
The largest concentration of Rindisbacher's work is kept at the West Point Museum of United States Military Academy.
- Ken Rogers
Originally published under the title "Red River Valley Artist was in N.D. Before Others" in Lewis and Clark: Art of the Upper Missouri. (Ken Rogers, Tim Fought, editors. Jim Bridges, publisher. Bismarck: The Bismarck Tribune, 2000.) Used with permission.
*Image courtesy of the State Historical Society of North Dakota (#A3995).