Vintage Dinosaur Art: Dinosaurs (St Michael) – Part 2

Vintage Dinosaur Art

Back we go into the wonderfully Bernard Robinson-illustrated world of 1978’s Dinosaurs, from St Michael (aka Marks and Spencer). Except this time, we’re actually looking at the art from this book that wasn’t provided by Robinson, but is instead attributed to various agencies. It’s a shame that we can’t put specific names to pieces, but at least the illustrations themselves are often good fun. Like this one.

The above illustration forms part of a series that is intended to illustrate the various fauna and flora that were around during different time periods – in this case, the Jurassic. It’s my favourite of the set for what should hopefully be quite obvious reasons. For starters, we have a rare example of a flippered Compsognathus, a long-discredited idea that also appeared in Halstead’s The Evolution and Ecology of the Dinosaurs (1975, illustrated by Giovanni Caselli). Then there’s that very freaky Dimorphodon, with a rather glum face, no neck, and a haphazard number of fingers. Perhaps most importantly, we have a fantastic Allosaurus that resembles nothing less than Godzilla with his dorsal plates removed. Also, afterthought Rhamphorhynchus. Beautiful.

Camarasaurus

Given the number of very well-known sauropod genera that lived during the Late Jurassic, it’s surprising that only Diplodocus features alongside Godzilla-Allosaurus. I guess space was an issue. No matter, though – we’re treated to illustrations of other Morrison Formation favourites elsewhere in the book. Camarasaurus appears in a nesting scene, looking suitably like a generic, wrinkly, grey, 1970s rendition of a sauropod. The forelimbs are splayed at an odd angle, and the head is very un-Camarasaurus like; overall, the whole thing reminds me of the sort of cheap dinosaur toys one used to find in gift shops in the ’90s. Of course, we must remember that this was produced by an agency artist who was probably given very little to work on, and still managed to produce a striking and quite beautifully detailed image. It’s also entirely possible that the identification as Camarasaurus was made after the fact, and the artist was just commissioned to illustrate a sauropod nesting site.

Barosaurus

Elsewhere, the artist’s sources and intentions are rather more transparent. Yes, it’s our friends the Giraffoid Barosaurs again, as memorably documented by Darren Naish nine years ago. Darren actually mentioned this specific illustration in his article, but it’s less obvious now that Scientific American have stripped it of images. It’s clearly ‘inspired by’ an earlier piece by an unknown artist that happened to appear in a 1980s book that I reviewed once. That earlier work was, in turn, clearly borrowing from Bakker’s famous Barosaurus illustration, although the mystery artist decided to turn the innocent sauropod into a horrifying steroidal abomination for some reason.

And here’s a whole herd of the bastards, complete with neck seams, racehorse torsos, and curiously short tails. There are some nice touches here, of course. The use of small pterosaurs to emphasise the animals’ sheer size is something of a palaeoart trope in itself, but there’s no denying that it’s striking and effective. The foliage is rather good, too, especially as it’s clear that the barosaurs, even with their enormously long necks, are still dwarfed by the biggest trees in their environment. And look, an apt comparison with elephants, pointing out that sauropods were well adapted for striding over the land, rather than languishing in swamps. It’s not all bad.

It’s not all bad.

Fangs

There’s a sauropod in the above illustration too, but unfortunately it’s rather dead, and being feasted on by Megalosaurus. Megalosaurus had a rough ride in dinosaur books back in the day, and it mostly appears to stem from Neave Parker’s hunch-backed, many-fingered reconstruction. While plenty of straightforward Parker copies can be found out there, the above megalosaur isn’t one of them. Even so, certain aspects of the reconstruction are reminiscent of Parker’s, like the surplus fingers on the hands and the odd way the neck merges into the shoulders. It also has an apparently dislocated left arm, making that whole area of the illustration a little distracting. It’s not all that bad otherwise – the artist has made the animal appear convincingly muscular, and the shading on the skin is very well done.

Coelurosaurs

The same artist appears to have be behind the above piece, depicting various small Jurassic theropods. Hey, look, it’s flippered Compsognathus again! Here, he’s joined by a different non-flippered species, Archaeopteryx (sporting those silly wing-fingers we’ve come to know and love), and Ornitholestes, the mean-looking one in the middle. These mostly aren’t too bad – author David Lambert is keen to emphasise the link between small theropods and birds (good going for the late 1970s), and so every coelurosaur is depicted as a highly active, fast-moving creature. Ornitholestes shouldn’t really be in a scene with Compsognathus and Archaeopteryx but, hey, tradition. That said, it does mean that Ornitholestes – typically depicted scampering around the feet of Allosaurus and Ceratosaurus – gets to play the big meanie for a change, which is interesting.

Ornitholestes does have slightly odd scales, like a koi carp. Still, there’s plenty to like here, including a decent variety of foliage and the charming inclusion of a small lizardlike creature in the lower left.

Ornithomimosaurs

The ‘Jurassic coelurosaurs’ spread is followed immediately by the above illustration, depicting Ornithomimus. Long-term readers of this blog will be familiar with the tendency for ornithomimosaur reconstructions in retro dinosaur books to plunge headlong into the Valley of Things Uncanny. Typically, they’ll mysteriously end up with accurately lanky legs and elongated necks, but combined with short arms and puny-looking, Trumpian hands. In this case, while we are spared the horrifyingly stick-thin appendages seen elsewhere, the animals are still shown as having disproportionately shrunken, seemingly clawless and distressingly humanoid hands. And they appear to be beakless, too. What the hell?

That aside, there is again plenty to praise here. I love the stylised approach to the foliage, and the realistically varying topography. The ornithomimosaurs themselves sport a very attractive, visually interesting but naturalistic, patterning on their skins. The birdlike tarsal scutes are also an interesting addition, and no doubt related to Lambert strongly advocating the bird-dinosaur link. Further, the Bakkerian dromaeosaur sprinting through the scene is good fun. We’re left wondering whether it’s on the hunt, or just an angry mother warding off a potential egg thief.

Hadrosaurs

Having looked at so many theropods, I suppose it’s only fair that we give hadrosaurs their due. Yes, I know, yawn, snore, boring. However, a spread featuring some Cretaceous hadrosaurs (above) is actually one of my favourites. The edmontosaurs (here going by the name ‘Anatosaurus‘) in this scene have been given quite beautiful, highly detailed scaly hides, not too far from what skin impressions indicate they actually had. Their dappled skin patterning is lovely, too, in a pleasingly subtle sort of way. Having one animal posed standing upright and another on all fours, with its head turned slightly towards us, is an excellent and very immediate visual way of cluing the reader up on the anatomy and possible habits of these animals. Granted, there are seemingly a few inconsistencies in the two edmontosaurs’ bodily proportions, but it’s clever nonetheless.

For whatever reason, the other hadrosaurs shown here – Parasaurolophus and (in the background) Corythosaurus – have much more of a conventionally retro, tripodal appearance. When compared with the edmontosaurs, Parasaurolophus also has much weedier looking forelimbs and hands. It’s probably related to the quality of reference material available to the artist. Once again, there are some lovely little details here in the surrounding flora and fauna, like the unfurling ferns at the feet of the hadrosaur, and the little wading bird in the water.

Deinosuchus aka Phobosuchus

And finally…whatever’s going on here. Yes, you guessed it – the big croc is Deinosuchus (although here the junior synonym ‘Phobosuchus‘ is used), while the hadrosaur (for that is what it is) is Corythosaurus. It ought to be quite easy to make an exciting scene out of a honkin’ great crocodilian ambushing a multi-tonne dinosaur, and indeed many artists have done so. However, what emerges here is less a clash of Mesozoic titans, and more an awkward struggle to squeeze into a bathtub. There are splashes here and there, but little sense of dynamic movement or struggle. Both animals appear to be the victim of a perspective fudge, with the dinosaur in particular being very oddly contorted. As Andreas Kullenberg said over on Facebook: “that’s a strange otter”.

Next time: I’ve finally got an early ’90s copy of Eyewitness Dinosaur! Should I review that, in spite of the relative lack of actual artwork? Let me know…

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