Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Vintage Dinosaur Art: The Bird Hunter

The pot-bellied tyrannosaur. Theropods gnawing on sauropod necks. Sauropods half submerged in murky water. Plesiosaurs gadding about with their necks exposed above the water. Paleoart has many classic tropes, and today's Vintage Dinosaur Art features one of my favorites: the bird-hunting Ornitholestes. The line between trope and outright thievery is a bit fuzzy, though.

It all began with Charles R. Knight's original restoration for Henry Fairfield Osborn.

Charles R. Knight Ornitholestes and Archaeopteryx
The Charles. R. Knight Ornitholestes. Shared by Trish Arnold at Flickr.

The appeal of Knight's drawing is understandable: arriving as it did in the middle of the time when dinosaurs were supposed to be tail-dragging dullards, here is a small, lively creature that Osborn initially described as perfectly adapted for hunting birds. Although his position on the matter changed, and not much work has been done subsequently, the work done by Knight was hugely influential. Dinosaur books for the rest of the century would feature the primitive maniraptor. As I've been collecting old dinosaur books, and as others have shared them with the Vintage Dinosaur Art pool, it's been fun to see where variations on the Knight original pop up.

Mort Künstler's version, from 1974's Dinosaur Story, mirrors Knight's composition, and other than some cosmetic changes like a stouter skull profile, is one of the most blatant knockoffs out there. Künstler did, however, partially redeem himself by portraying a different idea about Ornitholestes' behavior, in this illustration of a raid on another dinosaur's nest.

Lewis Zacks closely followed Knight, too, in Day of the Dinosaur. No bird, but you know what he was referencing when he drew this.


"The Day of the Dinosaur" by L. Sprauge DeCamp
In Day of the Dinosaur, also shared by Trish at Flickr, this unknown artist changed the posture and swapped an insect for the Archaeopteryx of the original. In that, he or she made an improvement. We can safely assume that Ornitholestes shared its environment with a bug of this sort, while Archaeopteryx lived halfway around the world.

Brontosaurus and Ornitholestes
In What Dinosaur Is It?, Anna Pistorius slams us with a double dose of paleoart clichés: the swamp-bound sauropod and, yes, our diminutive theropod chasing after a gaily colored bird.

Peter Zallinger, son of Rudolf, also couldn't resist the urge to sic Ornitholestes after Archaeopteryx. Mirrored like Künstler's, this is another one that almost looks like it could have been traced from Knight. Zallinger does give the Jurassic bird a bit of backup and a longer head start, though.

Hildebrandt Ornitholestes
The brothers Hildebrandt tackled the Mesozoic in 1976. Ornitholestes. Archaeopteryx. You get the point by now.

We'll wrap up with Aliki Brandenberg's much-cartoonified take on the meme, which pairs Ornitholestes with that other falsely accused theropod thief, Oviraptor - thought if it wasn't labeled as such, you'd think she was doing what Künstler did above, depicting another take on Ornitholestes' feeding habits. But no, that's supposed to be Oviraptor.

Got more of these in your own collection? Scan them and upload them to the flickr pool! We're all counting on you.


  1. here is one I posted in the pool. he's a little more hunched over, but is definitely part of the meme. http://www.flickr.com/photos/62101859@N08/5643929259/in/pool-1430168@N22/

  2. Ooh, good one - I love that it's bottom-heavy, too. Sorry I missed it, that's why ya gotsta tag your uploads!

  3. Thanks for the tip. I'll be sure to do that.

  4. Can you do a blog all on oviraptors stealing eggs pictures? Please include the Tim and Greg Hildebrandt little ornithomid like oviraptor.

  5. Note that there's yet another one in Marie Halon Bloch's LOOK at DInosaurs:

  6. The "Ornitholestes Chasing Oviraptor" meme even made it into the Disney movie Fantasia. During the Rite of Spring segment, a small bipedal predatory dinosaur (it's never named, but it looks a lot like how artists back then drew Ornitholestes) runs across the scene chasing an Archaeopteryx.

    1. Did I say Oviraptor? I meant Archaeopteryx.


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