Monday, March 21, 2016

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Dinosaurs - Living Monsters of the Past (Part 2)

It seems like an awful long time since the first half (it isn't really, I just moved home in the meantime), but here's Part 2 of my look at this Bentontastic book from 1993. As promised, I'll open with a more detailed look at the piece used on the cover, namely Vladimir Krb's fantastic Albertosaurus panorama produced for the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology.

This piece provides the stunning backdrop to a mounted Albertosaurus skeleton in a similar pose. I must be honest – my access to the internet is very limited at the moment, so I've had trouble determining how old this painting (and the mount) are. I'd guess 1980s, but if any readers are able to fill me in, please do so. In any case, the star tyrannosaur is restored with a 'modern' posture and, unlike many Dino Renaissance-era pieces, isn't unduly skinny (although the legs look a little puny). Quite apart from the wonderful painterly backdrop (the sky alone is quite lovely), I really like the speculative dewlap/gular pouch on the Albertosaurus, which gives its neck an intriguingly different profile to that usually seen. Period curiosities include the reversed hallux on a tyrannosaur (which seemed to pop up quite a lot back in the '70s-'80s) and the bizarre-looking wisp of a pterosaur in the top right. No matter – it's still an awesome work.

Appearing alongside the Albertosaurus in the book is this detail of two dromaeosaurs (adult and juvenile) scavenging a centrosaur carcass. It's presumably from the same panorama as the above, but, again, it's tricky for me to check just now. For obvious reasons pertaining to the Feathery Future, it hasn't aged too well; there's also the matter of the eyeball being in the wrong place, which gives these fellas a peculiarly lizardy look. There's something of the Bakkerian Deinonychus about these two, as well – it's probably the dewlap. Regardless, these are, again, beautifully painted, with superb patterning and an intriguing otherworldly quality about them.

Also from the Royal Tyrrell is this painting of nesting hadrosaurs, although unfortunately no artist is credited. The animals, which look well-proportioned if a little lean (typical of the era, really), are described in the book as 'Maiasaura', although I rather fancy that this is because Benton wanted to squeeze in a mention of the Good Mother Reptile – those head crests suggest a lambeosaurine. Nice work on the reflections in the puddles.

The work of a certain Greg Paul (for it is he) is featured here, too. His Avimimus (above) is notable for being remarkably prescient for 1993, a time when most artists were happy to copy Sibbick's Normanpedia version, which although feathered had a head straight out of the theropod spares bin. Of course, Paul did produce something similar himself, but the fact that he'd moved on to a small-headed, beaked restoration by 1993 just goes to show how he's often been ahead of the curve. The wattle on the neck is a great touch, too.

The two restorations underneath (skeletal & life) are just as remarkable, having been produced by Sergei Kurzanov, who described Avimumus in 1981. Kurzanov saw Avimimus as being even more birdlike than is now believed, and restored it as such, going so far as giving the animal hands like a modern bird and an extremely short tail. Of course, given how much feathers can obscure an animal's anatomy, it may well be that his life restoration isn't too far off the mark after all.

Back to Paul, and here we have a seldom-seen restoration of Megalosaurus, the first dinosaur to get a (really unimaginative) name. [Gag about Owen removed from here because Buckland named it...not Owen. Not sure what I was thinking. Wasn't even drunk. Thanks Dave.]  We're in 'generic big theropod' territory here, which isn't Paul's fault, of course, and the artist livens things up with some natty stripiness and moody driving rain. Inclement weather isn't seen often enough in palaeoart. The curled-up pronated forearms are a Predatory Dinosaurs of the World-era Paul staple that the artist himself has since abandoned in the light of anatomical evidence, but which have proven difficult to kill off in palaeoart more broadly (much to the chagrin of hundreds of internet pedants - especially me).

Paul also provides illustrations of a couple of dramatic confrontations between predator and prey. Here, the pin-headed sauropodomorph Massospondylus rears up to defend itself from Probably Coelophysis (aka Syntarsus, aka Megapnosaurus). I love the way the wispy clouds enhance the movement and drama here. The animals seem alarmingly thin even by Paulian standards, which suggests to me that this is an earlier piece by him. Close inspection reveals a crest of feather-like structures on the theropods (shades of Bakker) and those neck wattles again.

This illustration, depicting the tyrannosaur Tarbosaurus confronting the super-weirdo maniraptor Therizinosaurus, also appeared more recently in Paul's 2010 opus The (Princeton)  Field Guide to Dinosaurs. Unusually, it was completely unaltered for The Field Guide in spite of Paul's (commendably brave) tendency to update his work according to advances in dinosaur science. You wouldn't get away with scaly therizinosaurs these days, chuck. Of course, for its day this is pretty damn remarkable – subtract the hadrosaur-like crest, add some floof, and you're more-or-less up to 2016 standards. Miles better than a quadrupedal 'prosauropod' version, or just drawing a giant pair of arms surrounded by an army of floating question marks.

And finally...have a couple of bonus vintage photographs of the London Natural History Museum's dinosaur gallery as it was, back in the day (by which I mean, long before I was born). Being a little lazy (and without home internet at the moment), I put the question of the above photo's date to my friends on Facebook, who promptly established it as late '60s – early '70s, prior to Dippy and, er, Trikey's removal to the Main Hall (shan't use that new name). The Triceratops was of course then moved again to the current dinosaur gallery, along with the Iguanodon also shown here, although (unlike Dippy) they retain their original tail-dragging poses. But I digress. Look at how light and airy it was! Can't we have a little natural light shining in on the gallery again NHM, pretty please?

The book also features a photograph of this intriguing thing, being half a Tyrannosaurus rex composed of bits of some of the earliest T. rex specimens found, along with material cast from other, more complete specimens and a few sculpted parts. Happily, Darren Naish once wrote at length on this unusual mount during the days of Tet Zoo Mk2. The lower jaw (part original, part sculpt), having been in storage for years, can now be seen again as one approaches the robotic T. rex in the current gallery, while the skull was unearthed some years back and put on display as part of a temporary exhibition featuring a panoply of robosaurs. Presumably, the rest of this beast is buried somewhere deep within the NHM's mahoosive store rooms, being looked after by top. Men. It's a shame that it can no longer be seen, but at least the NHM now has a mount of a British dinosaur – Baryonyx – in the same spirit.

For my next post: I went to Dorset, and I found a Dinosauroid there.


  1. I do know the original of that Hadrosaur painting is in the Tyrrell's education office :P However as I don't work there anymore I can't check it for you (though I'm passing on a message to some old friends who still do :P )

    The Albertosaur was commissioned for the museum's opening in Sept 1985, and was present on the wall at that time (at least as of the museum's second week being open... I saw it personally ;) )

  2. I'm pretty sure the Coelophysis/Massospondylus picture originally comes from Predatory Dinosaurs of the World, so it's a very early piece indeed.

  3. I can confirm that the Coelophysis/Massospondylus illustration appears in Greg Paul's _Predatory Dinosaurs of the World_ (1988).

    So do all the other Greg Paul illustrations shown in this post: Avimimus, Megalosaurus, and the Tarbosaurus vs. Therizinosaurus piece.

    1. I found the Avimimus (p 402), Coelophysis (p 59) & Megalosaurus (p 158, top) pics in the (hard-back) copy of PDW in front of me, but not the Tarbosaurus/Therizinosaur. (I own a paper-back edition, but it's in storage, so I can't compare the two at this time.) As you say, the T/T is in The (Princeton) Field Guide to Dinosaurs (p 22, as Tyrannosaurus). It has been slightly modified for the Living Monsters, by having some empty space between the two animals cropped to make them appear closer to each other.

  4. I love these early drone issues, they seem so....alien and yet naturally at home in the scene even though their quasi fictional beasts.

    I love modern depictions as well, my mind just categorizes them as separate animals...

  5. I had to think of the Albertosaurus mural when I saw this "T-rex with prey" model at the shop To me it's quite a rip-off.

  6. I'm interested in the mural seen in the background of the London NHM gallery (is this the same as the 'BMNH'?). It appears to be one that I've never seen before. Anyone have a better picture of it?


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