Zdeněk Burian at decent resolution

May 30, 2019

Next to Charles Knight, the Czech painter Zdeněk Burian was arguably the most influential and important of the early palaeoartists. His dinosaurs tend to have a stately quality that’s very much at odds with our post-Dinosaur Renaissance sensibilities, but which has its own charm. Here’s arguably his most famous (and incorrect) piece, the snorkelling brachiosaurs:

The reason I mention him now is that I recently stumbled across the Paleo Porch site containing decent-quality images of his artworks. For some reason, Burian’s work always seems to appear in low-quality, small-size scans which do nothing to mitigate his tendency to use muted colours and low contrasts. So it’s nice to see his work looking relatively bold and clear.

Here’s his Brontosaurus, too:

There’s a ton we could criticise about both of these pieces; but we don’t have to do that. Instead, let’s just bask in the sheer dinosaurosity of these classic pieces.

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7 Responses to “Zdeněk Burian at decent resolution”

  1. Dale Says:

    There’s something almost “prehistoric” about Burian’s paintings (sorry …. couldn’t resist). Not a Burian fan but there is something almost haunting about some of his work (Victorian perhaps ??).

  2. Mike Taylor Says:

    Right, Dale, that’s it exactly. Living as we now do in an era with multiple outstanding palaeoartists doing a glorious job of depicting dinosaurs as actual living animals, there’s something delightfully other about artwork that shows them as Prehistoric Monsters.

  3. Andrea Cau Says:

    I first watched Burian art when I was 6. In particular, I was shocked by this painting http://palaeos.com/paleozoic/devonian/images/early-dev.jpg
    That day I decided to become a paleontologist.

    PS: In Italy, Burian is surely better known and influential than Knight among paleoart aficionados of my generation. In the ’80s, the translated versions of the Augusta books illustrated by Burian where often the only available “prehistoric fauna” books available for non-specialists.

  4. Matt Wedel Says:

    Dale, you nailed it with the adjective ‘haunting’. I get the sense from Knight, Burian, and others of their time that they were trying to show us not just vanished animals, but vanished time — worlds that were fundamentally different from our modern one. As much as I love the rather hard pivot of paleoart toward strict anatomical and behavioral accuracy (whether conservative or liberal in interpretation), I do miss that sense of peering through the mists of time. It’s not completely dead, though — I think Mark Witton in particular captures a similar flavor in his often moody and atmospheric pieces.

    Andrea, I remember seeing paintings like that Devonian scene in books when I was a kid and being struck by how quiet and empty the land must have been, whole continents with no grasslands or forests or big vertebrates roaming around. Whatever its faults, the movie Prometheus captures that in its opening sequence.

  5. Brad Lichtenstein Says:

    Maybe I agree with what everyone is saying, but they were painting the contemporary state of the art. What strikes me about them is not the obvious faults we see with a modern eye, but if you ignore the aquatic portrayal, dragging tails, and the apatosaur’s hunched back – they otherwise look shockingly close to a modern portrayal, certainly compared to those earlier English cement sculptures. You can see how their limbs and feet are both homologous to, yet very different from, our own – and the apatosaur’s neck! It looks, to this dabbler, like other illustrations you’ve posted and printed. Except for the recurve due to the hunchback, but I mean the impression of large volume.

  6. Andrea Cau Says:

    That’s the immortal power of Burian paintings: the immersion into an alien lost world.
    I love his Precambrian landscapes, Paleozoic forests and hominids. He was a great artist.

  7. Mike from Ottawa Says:

    I suspect the reason paintings by Burian, Knight, et al. look ‘prehistoric’ in ways more modern paleoart doesn’t is that their work defined the look of ‘prehistoric’ due to timing and prominence in a more limited field of competition. Certainly they dominated the books I saw on dinosaurs (mostly Time-Life ‘Library of Nature’ books) in the ’60s.


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