Monday, December 12, 2011

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Dinosaurs Discovered

Most readers of this blog will already be familiar with The Great Dinosaur Discoveries, Darren Naish's excellent book about, well, people discovering dinosaurs through the decades. Dinosaurs Discovered by John Gilbert has a very similar theme - double-page spreads profile historical palaeonotological findings - but is 30 years older, dating as it does from 1979. In addition, while Naish's book features gorgeous artwork from a number of the best palaeoartists around today (Luis Rey, Julius T Csotonyi, and Todd Marshall to name three), Gilbert's is illustrated solely by Guy Michel.

Apparently, Michel really had a thing for tongues. I'm not sure you can say that about Luis Rey.

The artwork is of a decent enough standard from a purely aesthetic, rather than scientific point of view; the animals are well-detailed, while landscapes appear lush and believable (even for all the oddly anachronistic grass).

However, there are a few very strange ideas that just keep on popping up (or rather, out). By far the most predominant among these is the tongue-lolling, Gene Simmons Iguanodon. It's first seen in a sort of 'parade' of dinosaurs from different periods:

(A few other things to note here: the extremely squat, no neck Ankylosaurus; the very stooped brachiosaur with even-length limbs; and the fact that the Stegosaurus with upright plates is significant for reasons I'll come to later. Also, I feel obliged to point out that the labels of Coelophysis and Cetiosaurus were clearly swapped by accident, but I've cropped out the former.)

A later page shows a whole herd of razzing Iguanodon stumbling blithely into a ravine in Belgium:

And here's another one...

And another one. (Note also the Stegosaurus with the seldom-seen 'flat plates' configuration, and the highly sauropod-like Plateosaurus, both of which jar with other illustrations of the same animal in the same book by the same artist.)

Quite why Michel thought that Iguanodon would be sticking its tongue out everywhere, I don't know. Obviously, the last image shows it using its tongue, giraffe-like, to manipulate foliage (an idea that Louis Dollo had), but in the other images it's just sort of...hanging there, like the animal's lost control of it. Or maybe it's catching flies, I dunno. Iguanodon isn't the only animal in on the drooling, tongue-dangling action, either.

Plateosaurus? What the hell? I've got a feeling that giraffe-like Iguanodon were a bit of a palaeoart meme back in the day, but this is surely the only time the idea's been applied to sauropodomorphs. (And if you know otherwise, I want to know too. Comment please!)

Protruding tongues aside, most of the art in this book conforms to what you'd expect from the 1970s, with a few particularly quirky highlights. Once again, Tyrannosaurus suffers a really rather undignified interpretation by the artist - not only frog-eyed, but in a really strange pose. It looks like the Struthiomimus has just let one rip and run off, and the Tyrannosaurus is throwing up its oversized arms in disgust. Something's really up with that Parasaurolophus skull, too...

Ah, good old Bronto. Obviously, the animal looks really retrograde and horrendous (shall we say 'phylotarded' again? Yeah, let's) and comes complete with a blunt wrong-o-skull, but there's still something I quite like about this scene. It's probably just because there isn't enough palaeoart set in a rainstorm. Reminds me of holidays in Norfolk. As an added bonus, in spite of apparently being of 1970s origin, both sauropod and accompanying pterosaurs look like they've been sent through a portal from the nineteenth century.

And finally...Michel clearly found arranging the animals in this scene a bit of a headache (geddit?), so he gave up. The ankylosaur has a very fetching pair of little horns in addition to not being at all bothered by the situation. Wonderful.


  1. while Naish's book features gorgeous artwork from a number of the best palaeoartists around today (Luis Rey, [...], and Todd Marshall)

    I'm sorry, as much as I love LITC vintage paleoart posts, I can't take THIS seriously

  2. Well, they can be divisive, but I like them (most of the time).

  3. 'A later page shows a whole herd of razzing Iguanodon stumbling blithely into a ravine in Belgium'

    Made me laugh aloud. I think it was 'razzing' particularly.

  4. Razzing Iguanodons haha. The Bernissart pic is just bizarre. Did Michel think that because they were found more than 300m underground that they therefore must have fallen down a 300m cliff to get there?

    The Palaeoscincus in the last pic is a classic that I've seen in a number of very ordinary dinosaur books. It would seem that someone once decided it should look like Edmontonia with a tail-club and everyone else since has copied. Isn't the genus only known from teeth with some other material referred to it?

    And I assume that the time-travelling "Ceratosaurus", helpfully putting its head where the tail-club can reach it, is actually a mislabelled Tyrannosaurus.

  5. @Mark Robinson Palaeoscincus is indeed a dubious genus based on teeth.

  6. @Marc Vincent

    If anything, it's hard to take Earthlingnature seriously, especially since most dino paleontologists seem to back up what you said (E.g. "That vividness is combined with a scientific rigour that is by no means universal in dinosaur art to give a new and exciting view of how dinosaurs may well have looked in life": ).

  7. I don't like every single thing Rey does, but I do like his stuff. But I also can totally understand why it turns people off, too. He can get pretty wacky.

  8. @David Oh yeah, I can understand why he turns people off. I don't particularly like some of his 'forced perspective' stuff, for example. But there's no denying that his work MAKES Holtz's encyclopaedia. It's dynamic, exciting, colourful and well-researched.

  9. While many of these books are pretty bad, "A Gallery of Dinosaurs and other Early Reptiles" by David Peters, was by far the most astounding Dinosaur Book I ever own. I read it so much that most of the pages started to fall out. This book cemented the vision of diosaurs as live, active animals in my young mind. You can look at the book for free on his website:

  10. @Hadiaz

    I'm just saying it's possible to someone make a good dinosaur picture without resorting to adding spikes everywhere and huge dewlaps like Todd Marshall does. There's nothing really wrong in adding these kind of details, but there is such a thing as moderation.

  11. @earthling See, that's exactly why I'm saving to commission a portrait from Marshall.

  12. @earthlingnature Yeah, Todd Marshall can go overboard on all that. I really like some of his illustrations though, for example his Megalosaurus (which features in the Naish book).

  13. I may have been too harsh in my previous comment. I didn't have a problem w/Earthlingnature not liking Rey for whatever reason, but w/Earthlingnature implying that that disqualifies Rey as 1 of the best. However, if Earthlingnature was only referring to Marshall (who I'm not as familiar w/), then my bad.


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