Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Victor Meunier

The Bone-Cave

Of the three founding members of Sir Richard Owen's dinosauria in 1842, Hylaeosaurus is easily the most obscure. Iguanodon is a classic, giving a spiky thumbs-up in dinosaur illustrations for well over a century. Megalosaurus is a fairly well-known wastebasket taxon, and was selected as the taxon of Earl Sinclair, blue-collar patriarch of the sitcom Dinosaurs. Hylaeosaurus? Despite being represented at the Crystal Palace exhibition, it barely rates a mention in most dinosaur books.

Hylaeosaurus, now known to be a primitive nodosaur of the Early Cretaceous, is probably best known from two artistic representations: The Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins sculpture and the set of German Tiere der Urwelt trading cards from about a century ago.

Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins' illustration of Hylaeosaurus for his Crystal Palace Exhibition sculpture. From Paper Dinosaurs.

F. John's Hylaeosaurus from the Tiere der Urwelt cards, obtained from Copyright Expired.

This latter illustration, like the other illustrations in the card set by F. John and Heinrich Harder, is based on an earlier one, which I've traced back to a French publication from about forty years prior.

Hylaeosaurus from Meunier's L'Animaux d'Autrefois (1869).

In 1869, french science writer Victor Meunier wrote an overview of extinct animals called L'Animaux d'Autrefois (Animals of the Past). Three years later, William Henry Davenport Adams published a translation of Meunier's text, expanded and revised for his English audience, called Life in the Primeval World. Adams writes that he believes it to be the first paleontology book published in English for a lay audience. I think he may well be correct in this. Samuel G. Goodrich published his Illustrated Natural History of the Animal Kingdom in 1859, but Adams focused exclusively on extinct creatures.

I presume that these woodcuts were done by Meunier himself, as neither the Meunier nor the Adams volume credits anyone else. Some are clearly based on earier works, such as this Megalosaurus, which owes a clear debt to Owen and Hawkins.

Meunier's Iguanodon is based on Mantell's and Owen's ideas of a quadrupedal, spike-nosed beast, but is one of the more fearsome of the early depictions, likely influenced by Louis Figuier's version which predated it by two years.

Of course, those flying dragons who so excited the minds of writers made an appearance, too, with Pterodactylus striking a pose and an awkwardly rendered Rhamphorynchus.



The watery world got some love too, with the rarely illustrated thallatosuchian Teleosaurus and the de rigeur Plesiosaurus, rearing swan-like upon the waves.



If these can be sourced to someone other than Meunier, please enlighten me, as I'd love to be able to dig even deeper. As always, you can find these in the Flickr Vintage Dinosaur Art group, along with hordes of other dinosaur images. For your convenience, you can even add it as a feed in your reader of choice. Easy peasy mac n' cheesy!


  1. Great post David. The pterosaurs are actually pretty good for the time - at least they don't have 'bat wings'. The Plesiosaurus appears to be surfing...

  2. Thanks, Marc! Good point about our pterosaurs. A little odd that both are depicted on the ground, but the lack of bat wings is a huge plus.

  3. Thank you so much for this.

    (Commenting all the way from Chiang Mai via a rather shaky connection :))


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