Monday, August 20, 2012

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Life before Man - Part 4 - There Will Be Burian

Burian's back, baby. This will be the last one for the time being, though - apart from not wanting you all to suffer Burian fatigue, we've got to make room for the Dinosaur Art stuff next week, followed by a post from New Guy, which should be a treat. Not only will he likely spout significantly less drivel than me, he also has a nice hat.

But never mind all that. At least the final Life before Man post sees the return of - gasp - DINOSAURS to Vintage Dinosaur Art! (Those who would argue that Cenozoic birds don't count are, of course, utterly wrong and actually a little offensive.) In the image below we have Phorusrhacos, and Burian's rendering once again proved highly influential, with hunched-over imitators being very easy to spot; I've seen similarly stooped life-size models more than once. Lovely view from up here...


More dinosaurs now - Palaelodus -  in a lovely scene exhibiting Miocene flora and fauna, including Gomphotherium (background), Palaeomeryx, and Dicrocerus (foreground). While the animals are beautiful, the painting would be equally stunning without them; Burian was a master of the wide, open wilderness.


Another 'hero' portrait now, and this time it's Paraceratherium (aka Indricotherium), the largest land mammal of all time. This piece is clearly meant to emphasise the animal's verticality, with the trees providing points of comparison, and everything directing the viewer's eye upwards. Meanwhile, the animal in lateral view in the background provides a handy anatomical guide.

Of course, magnificent as any restoration of Paraceratherium inevitably is, in the end you can never quite beat a elephant when it comes to looking magisterial (yes, I have a soft spot for them). The below painting, depicting Mammuthus columbi and Smilodon, is probably my favourite in the entire book. As I've noted previously, Burian hardly ever depicted scenes of confrontation between animals, but when he did he did so with aplomb, and never more than here, as a rearing Columbian mammoth wards off its sabre-toothed adversary while being lit up by sunbeams like a creature straight out of ancient mythology. It's quite rare to see Smilodon cast as the threatened, vulnerable animal in a scene, and its jeopardy is only enhanced by the inclusion of two tiny cubs.


Smilodon gets a straightforward portrait too, mind, and with suitable emphasis on its most famous assets. I always enjoy illustrations of animals yawning, for some reason - I suppose that, due to the sedate and ordinary nature of the behaviour being depicted, one can really perceive of this as being a moment in a real animal's life.

This next one scares me a little. Burian was quite well known for his fossil hominids, and this is Australopithecus afarensis. Primates are rather strange anyway, but one walking FULLY UPRIGHT? That's just silly - surely that plantigrade locomotion would be rather inefficient? Such an evolutionary experiment can't end well. I give 'em a few million years, tops.

Ah, that's better - more elephants. This is Palaeoloxodon, now apparently considered a subgenus of Elephas, the only extant species of which is the Asian elephant Elephas maximus. I love the colour palette of this wonderfully evocative forest scene, and yet again the surrounding landscape really helps in bringing these animals to life. There might not be any kitty-trampling here, but the individual in the foreground in particular still exudes power and grace.

It's only fitting that we end with dinosaurs, and here we transition from elephants to elephant birds (Aepyornis maximus). Again, the tropical greenery and misty morning air are excellently realised, but it seems odd that Burian opted to give the animal four quite well-developed toes; again, it might be an indication of the rather limited references that he had had available to him. Still, it's a lovely painting, and it seems apt to end with a dinosaur that has become extinct in historic time - apparently some freaky primate might have had something to do with it.

And that's all for now! No doubt there'll be more Burian in the future, but not for a while yet (I'm aware I've missed an awful lot of favourites). I hope you've enjoyed the series!

12 comments:

  1. This is my favourite post of yours in the series.

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  2. "we've got to make room for the Dinosaur Art stuff next week,"

    Out of curiosity, are you referring to your Vintage series or White's new book?

    "In the image below we have Phorusrhacos,"

    Almost forgot how much I like that image, especially its photorealism & color scheme.

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    1. White's new book. And I really like it too - it's easy to see why it was copied so often.

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  3. 1 more question I forgot to ask in my previous comment: Why doesn't "THE MESOZOIC BLOGOSPHERE" include "BEYONDbones" ( http://blog.hmns.org/ ) or the working version of "Everything Dinosaur" ( http://blog.everythingdinosaur.co.uk/ )?

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    1. Would you forward my question to him? Many thanks in advance.

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  4. I'm glad and a little proud to say that I have one of the Dutch copies of this book. I also have 'Urvogel und Flugsaurier', which is also illustrated by Burian and a monograph of sorts about *Archaeopteryx* and pterosaurs. Given the title, that one's in German of course.

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  5. Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
    The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
    Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
    The frumious Bandersnatch!

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    1. I've always thought that extant rheas made pretty good borogoves...

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    2. ...What? I mean, I know what you're quoting, but...why?

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    3. Perhaps the elephant birds or the Phorusrhacos might put one in mind of the Jubjub bird? Or the Jabberwock itself?

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  6. Marc -- I've always pictured terror birds when I hear that bit of verse about the Jabberwock. Can't help it. Sorry about the confusion.

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