Vintage Dinosaur Art: The Great Dinosaurs – Part 3

Vintage Dinosaur Art

Last time, I asked you a question: How much Sovák is enough Sovák? Your answer was clearly: no amount of Sovák will satisfy. So yeah, I’m going to go for broke and just show you as much of The Great Dinosaurs as I can get away with. This means I’ve divided the remaining images I want to talk about, most of them concerning ornithischians, into three parts. It also means that, probably for the first time in LITC history, we will now have a blog article that is fully dedicated to… ornithopods! With how many hadrosaur fans we have on our team, it was a matter of time, really. Given the love and care with which Jan Sovák reconstructs hadrosaurs and their iguanodontian forebears, you’d think he might have a soft spot for them, too!

Part one is here, part two is here.

Show me your Iguanodon, and I tell you who you are. Sovák’s Iguanodon looks atypical for the time, which favoured dark colours and upright postures, influenced both by Sibbick and the Burian/Parker generation, which hadn’t quite died out yet. This ‘don is light-coloured and has a curiously flat head and horizontal pupils, giving it a completely different character and emphasizing the animal’s strangeness. I’m fairly certain Sovák wasn’t completely satisfied with it, because some years later, this popped up:

Here’s the newer version of the same Iguanodon I’ve seen floating around on Pinterest. There are more examples of Sovák going back and revisiting and adjusting his older works, either because Science Marches On or because he’s just one of those restless artists who are never quite satisfied with their results. I must say, I rarely find these new versions improvements, but that might be my familiarity with the old works speaking, as those are the ones that appear in this book I’ve had for so long. This is one of the milder examples of Sovák changing things up; he’s done little but give Iguanodon a much thicker schnoz and bigger beak, giving it quite a different personality. It sure looks a lot more pleased with itself now. Eh. I’m still gonna stick to the old version.

Heck yeah! Ouranosaurus is such a cool, underrated dinosaur. It looks like nothing else. This reconstruction holds up pretty well today, too. Add in a giant croc attack with lots of splashy goodness and we’ve got a modern classic on our hands! Sovák’s most recognizable characteristic is his use of light and the way he makes the animals shiny.

Here’s the first of what I like to think of as the Hadrosaurs in Paradise Triptych in red, blue and green. Autumny colours and majestic sunsets are always a winner. This happens to be Prosaurolophus, one of the rarer hadrosaurs in pop culture. The text, by Spinar and Currie, suggests that flat-headed hadrosaurs prefer tropical climates while their crested brethren are more often found in colder, drier climes. I have no idea what evidence there is for this, but it isn’t really reflected in the artwork, as we see plenty of lambeosaurines in rainforest settings. For example:

Corythosaurus in blue, probably my favourite of the bunch. The colours and atmosphere are once again wonderful. It’s a wondrously majestic world you could get lost in, and the animals look lifelike, beautiful and strange. The opossum-like mammals are one of those touches that makes Sovák’s mesozoic seem that much more rich and alive, especially since these look very similar to the mammals in the Albertosaurus piece we saw in part 1. As you can see clearly here and in the next piece, Sovák at this point still took the “duck-billed” dinosaur discription way too literally, giving the animals a mallard-like spatula bill instead of the sharply downturned beak they would have had in life.

Lambeosaurus in green. The water is lovely. The implication here seems to be that Lambeosaurus has some sexual dimorphism going on, and that we’re looking at a male and his harem. I’m not sure if the current evidence would play that out.

Oh no! All is not well in paradise. Here, a young Brachylophosaurus has been separated from the herd; only the shadows reveal the threatening presence of a tyrannosaur, probably Daspletosaurus. Once again a great idea excecuted flawlessly. When Sovák paints a peaceful scene, the environment is lush and beautiful, when he depicts action, the land is barren and foliage takes a back seat. If I had one criticism, it’s that the hadrosaur’s face looks almost too expressive, too anthropomorphic. That’s the face I’d make if I were in that situation!

Parasaurolophus in the blizzard! Another amazing piece, somewhat more harsh and minimalistic this time. How many artists show non-polar dinosaurs in the snow? It must have happened every so often, even in the temperate climate of Cretaceous North-America. I love the coloration of Parasaurolophus‘ face. Again, Sovák seems committed to depicting sexual dimorphism in hadrosaurs.

Let’s end today with one of my favourite two-page spreads. A beautiful, tender scene of a Hypacrosaurus mother and young. Believe me, this looks mighty impressive if you open this page on the book. Finally, a piece that doesn’t forget to depict hadrosaurs as bloody gigantic! They were the largest non-sauropod dinosaurs, but everyone seems to forget that!

Wow, all those Great Dinosaurs sure are great, but I’m gonna take a little break from Sovák now. I’ve got something different planned for my next couple of blog posts… that is, if the pandemic doesn’t ruin my plans. The Great Dinosaurs will return… in November.

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  • Reply
    October 10, 2020 at 6:14 pm

    I always thought Sovak’s work would look best as murals in a dark museum hall. Something about their atmosphere makes me think they’d look great dimly illuminated behind or beside a skeletal mount. Something like Vladmir Krb’s work at the Royal Tyrell Museum. Sadly I think that era of museum exhibit design is behind us.

  • Reply
    Eli Burry-Schnepp
    September 2, 2022 at 5:32 pm

    Is that a Sarcosuchus imperator in the Ouranosaurus piece? If so, I think that’s the only illustration I’ve ever seen predating the Sereno expeditions.

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