Teylers Museum of Haarlem, the Netherlands, has been featured on the blog before, when Marc gave the place his warm-hearted recommendation. In this age, when so many museums in this country want to be full-on sensory experiences and as a result start to look more and more like theme parks, because heaven forbid the kids should get bored, Teylers increasingly seems like the last museum standing. Even now, the Teylers is a most agreeably old-fashined collection of quietly beautiful halls, crammed display cabinets and long-winded signage that seems to exist out of time, stubbornly resistant to trends. It doesn’t just stick to natural history either; there’s classic artwork and historical scientific instruments as well. This is where art, science and history all meet.
No better place, then, for an exhibition on palaeoart. On January 31 Teylers opened the new “Dinomakers” exhibition. It’s fantastic to see a museum in my home country devote their time, space and energy to our favourite subject, so despite promises of crowds I had to check it out on the very day. I’m happy to say, the exhibition exceeded all my expectations.
The keen-eyed have no doubt recognized the hand of one Mark P Witton on the poster, and indeed he was involved with the exhibition, wich has some of his works on display.
The exhibition room isn’t overly large, but it tells the story of palaeoart in a satisfyingly complete way. It goes from the discovery of the first mosasaurs, via Victorian times, the Bone Wars and the Dinosaur Rennaissance, to the current age. Not only are some of the biggest names in palaoart history featured, there’s also some lovely obscure work to discover.
The beloved Crystal Palace Dinosaurs are present and accounted for. Not only do we get to see some original Victorian-era Hawkins prints, we can also admire a small bronze Iguanodon replica from the master himself. It’s great to see the general public come around to Hawkins’ work as more than just a quaint holdover from a bygone age, but as skilled palaeoart in its own right.
And here’s some lesser-known stuff. These works are from the Urwelt-cycle by Austrian landscape artist Joseph Kuwasseg, a contemporary of Hawkins. Interestingly, his Iguanodons seem to be more in line with Gideon Mantell’s reptillian vision of the great beast than Richard Owen’s rhino-like interpretation. Joseph Kuwasseg is proving rather difficult to Google, not least because he had a more famous brother called Karl Joseph Kuwasseg. I couldn’t make this stuff up.
No greatest hits of palaeoart collection is complete without Knight – and no dinosaur collection is complete without at least one nod to Sexy Rexy. A display of Knight’s iconic T. rex versus Triceratops piece is accompanied by a skull cast of Sue (but… read the comments). Another Knight piece on display is an Edaphosaurus sculpt; I didn’t know the man also worked in 3D!
A life-sized detail of Rudolph Zallinger’s famous mural at the Yale Peabody museum is accompanied by a life-sized Stegosaurus, made by Aart Walen. Walen also made the tail-dragging Stegosaurus at Naturalis, which I was a bit down on. This one, from the collection of the Natura Docet museum, holds up a lot better.
The unsung cult hero of palaeoart, Zdeněk Burian, is heavily featured, with a dozen original paintings on loan from the Moravian Museum of Brno. Having been an admirer of his works for so long, seeing some of them in person was a wonderful and somewhat surreal experience. The signage emphasizes the occasional harshness of Burian’s work as a reflection of the brutal times of war he lived through.
A contemporary of Zallinger and Burian whom I’d never heard of is Maria Hubrecht, a suffragette, education advocate and self-thought artist whose stylized work never found the large audience she was hoping for. Her work is quite interesting and due a re-appraisal. Her 1944 book “Verdwenen Werelden” (“Lost Worlds”) might be worth tracking down.
Here are some vintage movie posters, and one not-so-vintage one. The Dinosaur Rennaissance is given attention by way of Bakker, Paul and a screen showing scenes from Jurassic Park.
The modern age of palaeort is represented not only by Mark Witton, but also the brothers Adrie and Alfons Kennis. These two are known for their incredibly lifelike and striking models of hominins, but also turn out to be skilled illustrators of other extinct animals. I did not know what a so-called “marsupial tapir” (Palorchestes sp.) was until now, and my life is once again a little bit richer for it.
Mark has a number of pictures on display, some of which I wasn’t familiar with. These include a huge Anchiornis mural and a badass Deinonychus vs. Sauroposeidon piece, one of the few times I’ve seen him indulge in some good old-fashioned predator vs. prey action. The signage does a great job of explaining Mark’s philosophy: moving away from shrinkwrapping and monsterization, towards a more naturalistic and scientifically informed, occasionally speculation-based approach to reconstruction.
Inevitably, there have to be some activities to appease the restless youths, who on this day were out in droves. On this occasion, they were invited to create their own palaeoart. And so we see the new generation of artists be born before our very eyes.
If there was one disappointment, it’s that the gift shop wasn’t selling any of Witton’s books (which are great and can be bought here, you’re welcome). To its credit, what it did sell was Zoë Lescaze’s gorgeous and intimidatingly ginormous volume on paleoart, which I would have bought if it wasn’t so darn expensive, and so darn heavy. I would have had to lug that thing around all day!
Needless to say, I left Teylers museum deeply impressed. Full props to guest conservator Esther van Gelder for setting up this excellent exhibition. To those of you who love palaeoart and the history thereof (and that should be, roughly, all of you) I cannot recommend a visit to the Dinomakers exhibition at Teylers highly enough. The museum is at walking distance from Haarlem’s central station, itself a short ride away from Amsterdam. The exhibition runs until June 1, 2020. Don’t miss it.