Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Vintage Dinosaur Art: In the Days of the Dinosaurs - Part 1

Now here's a curious one - a book from 1959, written by the great Roy Chapman Andrews and illustrated by Jean Zallinger. Wait, you mean Rudolph, surely? Well, no; Rudolph Zallinger may be the man behind The Age of Reptiles mural in the Peabody museum, but his wife Jean Day Zallinger is a prolific illustrator, and it shouldn't really be too surprising that she should lend her hand to a book such as this. It's strange not seeing Rudolph's name in this saurian context, but Jean is more than capable of holding her own...even if The Age of Reptiles does heavily influence some of the art here, as we shall see.

This is another one sent to me by Charles Leon - thanks again Charles!

Charles sent me two different covers for this one; one featuring just a Stegosaurus, with rather demonic red eyes, and the other with a Stego accompanied by some sauropods. They're serviceable, and provide an attractive splash of colour, but a little dull. I suppose it doesn't help that stegosaurs of this area inevitably end up looking very depressed, like they've just heard a Boris Johnson speech. Happily, there are much more interesting illustrations to be found within.

In fact, the above illustration of a gathering of hadrosaurs ("Trachodon", of course) is so good, it's used twice. The dinosaurs may be of their time, but are well observed and proportioned with it. The foliage, meanwhile, is just gorgeous - lush, varied, and detailed. Rarely is so much attention paid to mere foliage in palaeoart of this vintage, and it really helps create an engaging, naturalistic scene. It's telling how much carefully illustrated foliage can enhance the sense of realism in a piece, even when the art style isn't strictly 'realistic' or hyper-detailed; of course, all the best palaeoartists today are well aware of this.

When compared with the glorious flora in the hadrosaur scene, the chunky palm stuck behind Iguanodon here looks a little perfunctory. The animal itself, while obviously very typical of the time, at least has decently bulky, muscular arms, and a head that's the right sort of shape. Zallinger seems to have an affinity for warty, knobbly bits - as evidenced nowhere else better than in her illustration of...

...Brontosaurus, the Thunder Lizard! There's a lot more interesting detailing going on here than is typical for contemporary depictions of sauropods, and certainly more than initially meets the eye. The scaly skin effect is quite masterful, with the animal's textured hide being expertly shaded; a wonderful contrast to the often pachyderm-like skin seen on historic reconstructions. The peculiarly gnarled and knobbly head is an intriguing touch. It shows that Zallinger was viewing these beasts as real animals, inventing quirky display structures and anatomy the likes of which might not be construed from fossils. Obviously, the reconstruction as a whole simply wouldn't pass muster today (and it follows the trends of the age in seriously downplaying that fat neck), but for 1959, it's quite lovely.

Not so lovely are these "strange sea creatures of long ago". I dunno - is a big turtle that strange? And why were these animals always depicted as if they were trying to escape the sea, rather than just inhabiting it? Maybe palaeoartists of old felt that these creatures were utterly alien to their conceptions of marine life, and so they felt the need to depict them as something less than fully aquatic. Or maybe it's due to being biased towards human viewpoints. Or maybe crashing waves look really cool. It's probably a pretentious essay for another time.

Never mind all that, then - here's a hadrosaur! "The fingers of his small hands were joined by skin. Each hand was like a duck's foot...This dinosaur loved the water," Andrews explains. Thankfully, Zallinger ignores all this, instead depicting "Trachodon" standing alone on land, nervously glancing over its shoulder lest one of those hideous crocomurderbirds sneak up on it. Again, the skin texture is marvellous (very probably inspired by hadrosaur mummies), and the rows of larger, raised scales on the tail are a nice touch.

Where Trachedmontosaurotitan goes, of course, Rexy will surely follow. This illustration is very obviously based on the Age of Reptiles version by that other Zallinger, but there are a few notable differences. The black lumps down the animal's back have been exaggerated, and the skin textures are more varied - with tougher-looking upper parts giving way to a smoother, but still wrinkled, underbelly. The arms, meanwhile, are just plain creepy. I think a lot of it has to do with the extra digits; they're also disconcertingly humanoid.

Alas, poor "Trachodon" inevitably ends up as Rexy's lunch, in this very Knight-inspired illustration. This is a strikingly different depiction of Rexy - almost every small detail, from the shape of the head down to the number of fingers, is different. Even the black back lumps are gone. Meanwhile, the "Trachodon" now sports those aforementioned webbed fingers.
And finally...the King of Tyrants sleeping. This Rexy more closely resembles the Knightian version, appearing relatively svelte, with chunkier arms and two fingers, as opposed to the more rotund, Godzilla-like (Rudolph) Zallinger-influenced version. Rexy might be "the most terrible animal that ever walked the Earth" according to Andrews, but he doesn't half look adorable when having a kip. "For several days he sleeps soundly. No other dinosaur dares bother him," Andrews writes. Plenty of time for John Conway to sneak up and make a few sketches.

Next time: there's a whole lot more where this came from...

1 comment:

  1. Another delightful view. The monochrome drawings, so common at the time, are very effective. Sometimes colour makes the viewer admire an illustration instead of study it. As you note, the two T-rexs are very different.Perhaps the second illustration was meant to be Gorgosaurus, or modelled after it?


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