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Choris, Ludwig

Ludwig Choris (1795-1828) was born in a German family in what is now Ukraine, and educated at the Khar’kov gymnasium. In 1814, he enrolled in the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts, and just a year later was recommended as expedition artist for Otto von Kotzebue’s round-the-world voyage. The expedition was outfitted by Minister of Foreign Affairs, Count N. P. Rumiantsev, to seek a northeast passage from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean. Kotzebue’s ship, the brig Riurik departed Russia’s Baltic base of Kronshtadt on July 30, 1815, sailed around Cape Horn and arrived at Petropavlovsk in Kamchatka 11 months later. From there it sailed to St. Lawrence Island and then further east to the sound on the American mainland, which Kotzebue named after himself. After exploring Bering Strait and the Aleutian Islands during the summer of 1816, the expedition wintered in Hawaii and made a second voyage to the Arctic in 1817, but sea ice and Kotzebue’s illness thwarted their plans. The Riurik returned to St. Petersburg in August of 1818. Some of Choris’ images were published 1821 as illustrations in Otto Kotzebue’s A Voyage of Discovery into the South Sea and Bering’s Strait. A more lavishly illustrated account entitled Voyage pittoresque autour du monde was published in 1822. The Alaskan images are brought together in the volume Kamchatka et les Iles Aléoutiennes and accompanied by ethnographic and naturalist descriptions by Ludwig Chamisso, who served as a naturalist on Kotzebue’s expedition. In 1826, Choris published another illustrated book Vues et Paysages des Régions Equinoxiales Recueillis dans un Voyage Autour du Monde, which does not contain Alaskan images. Both books were very well received and Choris was gaining international recognition when his life came to a sudden tragic end. On March 1828, while travelling in Mexico and working on a portfolio of ethnographic illustration, he was killed by bandits who attacked his party on route from Veracruz to Mexico City. 

Sources and literature:

Mornin, Edward. Through Alien Eyes: the visit of the Russian ship Rurik to San Francisco in 1816 and the men behind the visit. P. Lang, Oxford & New York, 2002.

Choris, Louis. Voyage pittoresque autour du monde, avec des portraits de sauvages d'Amérique, d'Asie, d'Afrique, et des îles du Grand Océan; des paysages, des vues maritimes, et plusieurs objets d'histoire naturelle; accompagné de descriptions par m. le Baron Cuvier, et m. A. de Chamisso, et d'observations sur les crânes humains, par m. le Docteur Gall. Par m. Louis Choris, peintre. De l'Imprimerie de Firmin Didot, Paris, 1822.

American Journeys. Choris, Voyage Pittoresque (1815-1818), introduction

Kotzebue, Otto. A Voyage of Discovery into the South Sea and Bering’s Strait… Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme & Brown, London, 1821.

Pierce, Richard. Russian America: A Biographical Dictionary. The Limestone Press, Kingston, Ontario and Fairbanks, Alaska, 1990.

VanStone, James W. An Early Nineteenth Century Artist in Alaska. Pacific Northwest Quarterly, October 1960, pp. 145-160.