Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Private Lives of Animals: Prehistoric Animals - Part 2

Given the quality of the illustrations, I couldn't possibly feature only the dinosaurs from Prehistoric Animals (part of the Private Lives of Animals series). Here, then, are a few of those otherprehistoricanimals from the Palaeozoic and Mesozoic, as illustrated by Allen, Buonanno, Budicin, Burian, al. We'll start with a firm favourite - a synapsid with so much pop-culture baggage (sorry, appeal) that it's often considered an Honorary Dinosaur.

And it's a fine illustration of Dimetrodon, too, very much in the Burian mould. In fact, for the time it's quite superb. The animal isn't doing much more than reclining and flashing its gnashers, but there's nevertheless a beautiful sense of fluidity and movement; it has a pleasing organic quality, while maintaining a decent level of anatomical accuracy and not succumbing to monsterisation. Actually, that's true of a great many illustrations in this book, and is surely the primary reason for it being so loved.

The format of the book seems to largely revolve around an animal receiving a single, large, 'profile' illustration, followed by a page full of colourful illustrations of said animal's (usually violent) behaviour. Here, we see Dimetrodon (with varying sail configurations, which is actually very true to life) stalking various 'amphibian' beasties. By far my favourite of these is the one on the right (also starring Eryops); the background detail is just wonderful. The pose of the Dimetrodon in the lower left is very familiar - it strongly resembles a piece by Bernard Robinson, although Robinson might himself have copied it. Let me know if you're clued up...

As time marches on, so synapsids start to look decidely hairier...although not too hairy just yet, if you please. The artist hasn't done anything especially unusual in shrinkwrapping the animal's head, but the naked skin/mangy fur ratio here is quite peculiar-looking. No doubt it's intended to present the animal as a sort of - shudder - 'missing link', or a 'transitional' form as the text puts it. Benjamin Hillier (thanks again Benjamin!), over on Facebook, described it as resembling "some sort of ungodly fusion between a brown labrador and a Komodo dragon." Having said all that, given that I grew up with even less hairy depictions of this animal, it didn't bother me all that much at first...

Naturally, Cynognathus is treated to a few extra illustrations, which generally depict it being a big old meanie. In the top illustration, it menaces Euparkeria, which here resemble shrunken versions of old-school tripodal theropods. This illustration is, once again, marvellously atmospheric - it's all in the light-'n'-shade. Most amusing is the lower right piece, depicting Cynognathus pouncing ferociously on...a beetle. Times were hard in the Triassic, as the text implies.

On to the Jurassic, and - brace yourselves - pterosaurs. As was typical of the period, there is a tendency for pterosaurs to be emaciated-looking, with protruding ribs, skeletal faces, and a permanent look of pain and torment. Incidentally, the Rhamphorynchus above somewhat resembles Steve Bannon's true form.

Unusually, Rhamphornychus has to share its second page with other pterosaurs, including a number of clear Burian copies. Again, though, far more effort has been put into mood and setting in these pieces than could ever be expected. That sunset! Those waves! Never mind the terrifying zombie pterosaurs that inhabit these pieces; just drink in that atmosphere.

Any book that features pterosaurs can't help but throw in a few marine reptiles too, and a funky crested mosasaur is par for the course. They inevitably have a menacing, but simultaneously almost mischievous grin on their faces, a swishing tail, and a few frog-like warts thrown in for extra seamonsterishness.

Thankfully, the illustrators' many talents were utilised very well in depicting EPIC MARINE REPTILE BATTLES. That's what we came here for, after all - skipping the page dedicated to mosasaurs tussling with other marine life in churning waters would be like having a Godzilla movie that cut away before a big monster fight. These are a treat - there's so much movement and energy in each of them, although a particular highlight for me is poor old Pteranodon meeting a violent end yet again in the top left. The hellish orange sky really enhances the savage, primordial mood. I also had to include the Komodo dragon, staring defiantly at a steam ship in the distance as if guarding its territory. Small when compared with the ocean-going lizards of the past, but still a formidable beast.

Plesiosaurs get a look-in, too, in the form of the suitably weird and huge Elasmosaurus. The illustrations here follow the traditional tendency to portray the animal as keen on permanently sticking the full length of its neck and head out of the water, so as to resemble forged photos of the Loch Ness monster (which is duly mentioned). These days, of course, we know that plesiosaur necks really weren't up to that sort of thing, but even at the time it didn't make an awful lot of sense; one imagines the trope persisted because it makes the animals resemble classical depictions of mythical sea monsters that much more. Another lovely, painterly illustration, mind you.

Of course, this behaviour kinda does make sense if one supposes that plesiosaurs were busy grabbing pterosaurs' legs with their tiny heads, as in one of the illustrations above. (Note also the typical, Fantasia-esque rocky clifftop background.) It's fittingly moody and retro and a bit odd, but nothing can top the spectacular painting of elasmosaurs tussling with two Temnodontosaurus-like mega-ichthyosaurs. This seems a bit silly to me, as Elasmosaurus is far removed in time from the ichthyosaurs' heyday, and I'm not aware of any this huge coexisting with it - but feel free to correct me if you know more about marine reptiles (you probably do).

Dubious science aside, it's a very cool illustration, again bursting with positively muscular energy. The water is actually quite stylised, but it adds to a lively quality that only enhances the sense of realism. What I'm getting at is: dudes could paint. Although that still looks nothing like Plesiosaurus.

And yes...plesiosaurs weren't dinosaurs. Oh dear.

Next time: mammals!


  1. One of the most violent prehistoric animal books? The thing is filled with animals ripping each other apart!

  2. Many of these wonderful images also turned up in a Panini Prehistoric Animals sticker album. Thanks for triggering some great childhood memories.

  3. Been a while since we had some intrusive, irrelevant political mithering in LitC. I almost missed it. Almost.

    Maybe it kept getting 'baleted'.

    1. Are you referring to my little throwaway remark? 'Cos I make jokes about Trump and British politics (which is, naturally, closer to home for me) on here all the time.

  4. The illustrations are simply superb but then so is the text.With its imaginative style it matches the paintings superbly. It even shamelessly makes things up, though it is a pardonable fault. I especially love that Dimetrodon's appendage was definitely NOT a sail, but there it is, apparently an expert swimmer using its 'sail.'

    As for ichthyosaurs fighting plesiosaurs, why not? It rather harks back to those nineteenth century lithographs of toothy plesiosaurs munching into finless ichthyosaurs with water spouting out of their nostrils.

    Well done again, Sir.

    1. Now then, its sail simply HAPPENS to be breaking the water's surface in that shot. It doesn't mean it's serving as a sail ;)

      Yes, the text is excellent. Often amusingly florid but I wonder if that's the result of it being a translation...

    2. Oh, and about the plesiosaurs: the (possible) issue is more that the plesiosaurs are Elasmosaurus, specifically. Elasmosaurus was around only about 80 million years ago.

    3. I can say that the tone of the text is equally flowery in the spanish version...

  5. I suppose in the 70s it was OK to describe synapsids as reptiles, but suggesting that Komodo monitors are descended from mosasaurs is like claiming that I am descended from Cynognathus. Lovely, lovely pics, though.

  6. That is the most muscular tylosaurus I've ever seen. He must work out!
    I've been following your blog for quite a while, but this is the first time I've ever actually posted a comment.

    Well, there's a reason for that. I've just scanned in an old dino book I found, Extinct Animals by Puffin books. I wondered if you'd featured it here before. If you want I've got all of the pages.

    Anyway, let me know and I can send them over.

  7. "...would be like having a Godzilla movie that cut away before a big monster fight."
    Gasp! Unpossible! What madman could even imagine doing such a thing? *cough*


Trolls get baleted.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.