We haven't finished with De Oerwereld yet - not while I can still harvest more posts from it. Before proceeding, be sure that you've already ogled Part 1: Theropods and Part 2: Sauropodomorph Boogaloo. This week it's the turn of assorted ornisthichians, starting with a stunning work of art that was turned into one of the best-loved palaeo-posters since before time began (I'm in an '80s sort of mood, you see).
Mark Hallett might just be my favourite palaeoartist, if not of all time, then definitely of the hyper-detailed, 'photorealistic' school. Plenty of artists have produced mind-boggling works that are technically superb, but can often feel rather staid, stately and a little lifeless. Hallett's true skill, beyond his already highly impressive technical ability, is in avoiding this. Although extremely detailed, there is a boldness, an energy in his work that is often missing from that of other 'photorealistic' artists. This hugely popular painting, of two fighting Triceratops, is certainly among his very best work - I can but apologise for only being able to provide details here, rather than the whole thing.
In such an action-packed scene, it's easy to miss the enormous care that Hallett has taken in detailing not only the animals, with their highly lifelike expressions and carefully researched anatomy, but the surrounding environment. In a Hallett piece, there will always be splashing water, crumbling earth, and vegetation being twisted and snapped. Like the other artists in this book, Hallett's work has aged remarkably well, and often any historical errors are virtually insignificant. In this case, for example, I'm pretty sure that the uniting of Triceratops' digits into a single elephantine 'paw' would be frowned upon these days...if anyone noticed.
Doug Henderson's work is frequently distinguished by its expert use of elaborate foliage, so it's interesting to see a piece like this, in which two drowned centrosaurs appear (at first glance) to be suspended in an ethereal void. There is a wonderful dreamlike quality here - we are strangers in this alien world, which belongs to the plesiosaur, itself heedless to the dramatic sight of the giant animals' bodies drifting idly by above. Equally, there is a beautiful melancholy, as in so much of Henderson's art...
...Like this, for example. In a lot of palaeoart, the animals will practically be jumping down our throats, as if they're putting on a show for us (it's almost possible to smell the popcorn). Instead, Henderson offers us furtive glimpses through the thick underbrush of a world that is as lush and filled with life as it is hostile and unwelcoming. Dinosaurs, so often depicted as the lords of the Earth, are typically hopelessly dwarfed by their surroundings. There's something so very real about it all.
Of course, it's not all Hallett and Henderson - there are also shots of superb models sculpted by Stephen Czerkas, which have themselves been remarkably influential (for example, check out some of Raul Martin's earlier stuff). Handily presented from every angle, it's possible to see that Czerkas has accurately given the animal sauropod-like columnar 'hands', something that people have seemingly never been able to get right.
Doug Henderson did stegosaurs too - of course he did. They're just way over there, and you'll have to clamber through the forest to catch a glimpse of them. One is reminded of forest elephants gathering at a lakeside clearing - big animals with an unlikely aptitude for remaining hidden. Here, the trees seem testament to the destructive power of a herd of huge herbivores - be they the stegosaurs themselves, or their considerably larger neighbours. Why, the dinosaurs are quite literally framed by the very destruction they leave in their wake. The background stegosaurs, exposed to the sun's glare, take on a ghostly and elegant quality that seems quite at odds with their lumbering, cumbersome appearance.
Speaking of lumbering and cumbersome...and thyreophorans...the book includes Hallett's rendition of the famously spiny ankylosaur, Saichania. It doesn't quite appear flat and wide enough, but is nevertheless imbued with Hallett's scarcely matched lifelike quality. Much of this is owed to the texture work - the animal's thorny armour glints and gleams menacingly, while its gnarled head appears solid enough to touch. It's possible to imagine running one's hand over its knobbly surface, right before having one's head stoved in by a high-velocity bony lump.
Much of the longevity of Hallett's work is owed to the fact that Hallett restored his animals in a way that was anatomically rigorous, while also avoiding the worst excesses of the 'dinosaur streamlining' that went on in the '70s and '80s. In fact, and while it's no William Stout zombie-o-saur, his Hypacrosaurus is unusual in having a rather shrink-wrapped head and pencil-thin neck. Nevertheless, it's very difficult to deny that it is an absolutely stunning piece of work, as per bloody usual. Bah.
And finally...the work of some upstart named John Sibbick. Here, some moronic Ouranosaurus are trying their very best to make a racket and upset Old Man Sarcosuchus, a world-weary soul who would just like to get some rest before he sets out once again to do battle with Suchomimus and what have you. Really, though, this is a lovely scene, with a beautifully well-observed river delta and an exquisitely painted gharial-zilla.
De Oerwereld van de Dinosauriërs will return! There's an awful lot of Palaeozoic art in this book that's begging to be shared, including some seldom-seen Sibbicks, alongside Henderson works so beautiful they'll move you to muted tears accompanied by a sad string soundtrack. We'll be back.