Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Dinosaurs of Canada

Five years ago (wait...what?!), I wrote a VDA post on W.E. Swinton's book on dinosaurs for London's Natural History Museum, which featured a number of artworks by Neave Parker. Professor William Elgin Swinton (for it was he) moved to Canada after his stint at (what is now) the NHM, and in 1965 he wrote the book we're looking at here - Dinosaurs of Canada. Neave Parker had, unfortunately, died a few years prior, but his influence is keenly felt in the illustrations by Paul Geraghty, which are as wonderfully stylised as they are (very) obviously dated. I don't half love a slightly concerned-looking tyrannosaur.

This book was sent to me in PDF form by reader Charles Leon (cheers Charles), who mentioned acquiring it from somewhere-or-other on the internet. Judging the book by its cover, it's very obviously a scan of an old library book, so if you know anything more about how it ended up online, please let me know [EDIT: see Charles' comment below]. In any case, it's a notably less, er, wacky read than the earlier BM(NH) book, mostly because Science Marches On and all that. The illustrations, on the other hand, don't show much in the way of scientific progress at all.

But they're still lovely. As Niroot noted over on the Fezbooks, the "woodcut or linocut prints" (we assume) are quite a sight to behold, and a notable departure from the norm in a book like this. Geraghty's Gorgosaurus clearly owes a lot to Neave Parker and possibly Zdenek Burian's work. As was pretty normal in the pre-Renaissance era, the animals mostly look as undermuscled as I would if I ever dared go within fifty feet of a gym. That is, except for their thighs, which are bloody enormous. This actually shows that at least some attention was being paid to the animals' skeletons, which indeed make it clear that they did have huge thighs. The need to incorporate this, but also show how 'reptilian' (read: lizardy) they were, results in amusing-looking creatures with massively meaty thighs leading to stick-thin lower legs - like they were doing really specific exercises.

Geraghty's Ornithomimus has intriguingly birdlike and very long feet (as well it might) with tarsal scutes, but withered muscles all the same. Perhaps its most intriguing feature is its head, or more specifically its eyes, which appear to bulge out in chameleon-like fashion.

In terms of detailing and composition, this Edmontosaurus/Anatosaurus is probably one of the best pieces in the book. However, according to Andrew Stück over on Facebook, "it's a reverse-side image of the Neave Parker splay-legged Trachodon", which I must admit I haven't seen and can't seem to find online (help please). It does remind me of Burian's similarly-posed beast, preparing to run from Tyrannosaurus in one of his more famous paintings. Mirror-image rip-off or no, I do like this stylised take on the creature, awkwardly-jutting fatty thighs and all. Naturally, it's shown emerging from the water in a marshy environment, because after all, various anatomical features of these animals clearly show adaptations to an aquatic life. Per Swinton,
"Many hadrosaurs, the so-called 'hooded' forms, had greatly swollen nasal cavities that must have been developed because these dinosaurs habitually lived in water...The hand had four fingers but no thumb and the fingers may have been joined together by skin, making a kind of flipper. The tail was long, muscular and flattened from side-to-side, which it suggests it may have been used for swimming."
It all rather reminds me of something that's surfaced again recently. Something about primates with thin hair and subcutaneous fat...

It's at this point that I'd like to remind you, dear reader, that this book's title is Dinosaurs of Canada. But here's Stegosaurus anyway. I'm not aware of Stegosaurus remains turning up in Canada (and the book makes no mention of it), but please do fill me in if I'm missing something. In any case, for all the lovingly detailed knobbly bobbly skin patterns, this is a pretty typical mid-20th Century depiction of the animal, even if the raised head is a welcome relief from the 'hurr durr, my brain's the size of a pea' ploughskull restorations that were typical of the period.

And finally...Scolosaurus, which definitely did come from Canada. This sprawling, rather short-tailed restoration of the animal will be very familiar to anyone who went to visit some 'life sized dinosaurs' back in the '80s and '90s. It's also a veteran of artwork by Burian, Parker and their countless imitators. For whatever reason, this one omits the tail club completely, and the head is suspiciously turtlelike; nevertheless, the shading and impressionistic foliage is very attractive.

Er...that's it. It's quite a short book. Coming up next time...TetZooCon, I hope!


  1. Oh! Pardon me, I thought for sure it was a Neave Parker Trachodon; I guess it was a Burian piece I was thinking of. I don't know how I got them confused....

  2. Yup no Stegosaurs in Canada... yet ;)

  3. "I don't half love a slightly concerned-looking tyrannosaur."

    'Wait, did I leave the oven on?'

    'Wait, what's an oven?'

    "nevertheless, the shading and impressionistic foliage is very attractive."

    This. The shapes might raise a few eyebrows but the rendering is very striking.

  4. This 1970s vintage book may be of interest: https://www.scribd.com/doc/162211077/1973-Golden-Exploring-Earth-Book-Dinosaurs


  5. Sorry that I didn't send that information, I was a bit rushed at the time and didn't think it would be important. I found that one (and a couple of others) at the Online Library (http://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/)
    when I did a search for "W.E. Swinton, pdf". I weeded out the membership/pay sites and found that one. The original search was trying to find Swinton's Dinosaurs, the British Museum's pamphlet that you reviewed several years ago.

  6. The cover has a heavy Neave vibe and I think, just maybe, the scolosaurus might have been based on a Parker image as well.


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