Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Premier Palaeo-artist Zdenek Burian -- Prehistoric Animals

Zdenek Burian (1905-1981), you could say he's the man who put the life back into dinosaurs. Working with palaeontologist Joseph Augusta in Czechoslovakia, Burian painted prehistoric landscapes and animals to complement Augusta's vivid descriptions.

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Gorgosaurus and Scolosaurus

Prehistoric Animals
was published by Artia in conjunction with Spring Books of London in 1956. Burian's paintings were the basis for the award-winning film Journey to the Beginning of Time, released in 1955.

A brief bio of Burian -- he dropped out of an art academy at 14 and embarked on a career as a book illustrator. In the '30s, the universities in Czechoslovakia were closed due to war and professors had idle time. This is when Burian hooked up with Joseph Augusta to collaborate on books. Burian later worked with palaeontologist Zdenek Spinar.

Earlier palaeo-artists produced animals that were stiff and rigid, while Burian was the first to incorporate action into his portraits of prehistoric animals. His paintings, mostly in oil, are so realistic that it was often commented that they appeared to be painted from live subjects.
This is what Burian told his friend, Oldrich Fejfar, on how he works:

"When I paint an animal, I always start with the eye. I make a sketch with pencil or charcoal and then I paint the eye in oil, and then I proceed. The eye looks at me and I understand the animal better." (From Cesky Rozhlas,08-06-2005, by Pavla Horáková)

Burian is considered one of the most influential palaeo-artists and he has many imitators.

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Here is Burian's Phororhacos -- 6 foot tall flightless birds -- looks menacing.

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Really pretty and dreamy prehistoric landscape. That dragonfly -- Meganeura -- had a 30 inch wingspan.

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This depiction of Elasmosaurus is full of action. Skeletons of this prehistoric animal were believed to be the remains of dragons.

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The woolly mammoth and the cave bear were contemporaries of early man.

Great vintage book!