Vintage Dinosaur Art: On the Trail of the Dinosaurs – Part 1

Vintage Dinosaur Art

Another day, another dinosaur book that is too bloody big for my scanner. Written by the ever-prolific Mike Benton and published in 1989, On The Trail Of The Dinosaurs is one in a series of three books on palaeontology and prehistoric life. There’s also separate volumes on palaeozoic and cenozoic animals.

What makes this one of interest to us is that, in the life reconstructions, we recognize the steady hand of perennial LITC darling Graham Rosewarne. We mostly know Rosewarne for his standout work on Dinosaurs! Magazine in the 90s (that’s The Humongous Book of Dinosaurs to those of you across the pond). Out of the many artists working on that magazine, it was Rosewarne’s forward-looking, Greg Paul-inspired work (along with that of our friend Steve White) that ended up ageing the best and is dearest to all our hearts. His work for Benton in the 80s, however, represents an earlier stage of his career. This is how Graham Rosewarne got his start in palaeoart, and from here, as we shall see, his skill would still have some developing to do.

Very much in the mold of David Norman’s work, the book is big, hefty and wordy. Skeletal diagrams and photos of field workers and mounted skeletons account for most of the pictures. Rosewarne’s work can be divided into standalone “identity parade” reconstructions like this Archaeopteryx, and a handful of bigger, panoramic compositions. Oddly, it is the drier, spotters guide type stuff that I like more. It just seems to be where his strength lies, and it’s mostly what he ended up doing for Dinosaurs! Magazine. The Archaeopteryx is very much of its time, looking like an awkward bird/reptile hybrid rather than an animal unto itself. The flamboyant colours and the wing-hands are also classic retro tropes. This is a few steps removed from the progressive work Graham would become known for.

The animals in this Asian Middle Jurassic scene look a lot more recognizably Rosewarneish. A bit more broad and stylized than his more intricate, sleek work for the magazine would be, but the simple but effective use of colour, the strong silhouettes and the attention to the details of the underlying bone structure and musculature are already present.

Plus, Rosewarne was never one to shy away from the obscure taxa. We see Tuojiangosaurus and Shunosaurus in the background, Xiaosaurus in the foreground while Gasosaurus and Datousaurus do battle. The stegosaur has a very typical pose, looking over its shoulder, which I’ve seen Rosewarne and others use elsewhere; it may come from Sibbick’s Scelidosaurus. Although neither Shunosaurus or Datousaurus are particularly huge sauropods, I feel Rosewarne could have done more to make them look big and hefty, something he pulls off more successfully elsewhere. The other thing that jumps out at me is how Gasosaurus here looks more like Baryonyx than the actual Baryonyx does later on. The scaling is all over the place: the theropod looks damn near as big as the sauropods.

By the way, the mounted skeleton of Gasosaurus, as it appears in the book, is CRAZY. Just goes to show that historic dinosaur mounts aren’t always the most reliable as reference material.

The Late Jurassic scene is quite vibrant and shows a colourful cast of characters. It’s a Tendaguru scene rather than the more common Morrison, so there’s Kentrosaurus, the African Brachiosaurus (now Giraffatitan) and Dicraeosaurus. Compared to the previous spread, the sauropods here look a bit more majestic and grand. Their backs are oddly bumpy, like overweight elephants. Unusually, the dinosaur taking centre stage is Elaphrosaurus, rendered stripy and interpreted as an ornithomimid rather than the oddball ceratosaur it is now tentatively thought to be. A lanky theropod looks oddly out of place in the Jurassic, but Rosewarne gave it lovely colours. Next to it is a dryosaur which is currently known as Dysalotosaurus, with a nearly giraffe-like pattern and those prominent mouth cheeks Rosewarne often gives to his herbivores.

Here’s an Early Cretaceous Wealden tableau. It’s raining, so we know we’re in England! In terms of composition, you can tell that these panorama scenes are all a bit samey, even if Rosewarne adds rain to shake things up. Immediately, our attention is drawn to that odd, elongated, low-slung quadrupedal Baryonyx. Quad Bary is something you saw more often back in the 80s, when this animal was a brand-new discovery and we didn’t really know what its deal was. I’ve seen this particular one elsewhere, but I don’t know where it originated from. The Iguanodon is a typical early rennaissance rendition and holds up pretty well. Rosewarne often gives his dinosaurs these, what are they, skin flaps, veins? Along their sides. In the case of Iguanodon, it seems to be going over its shoulder. Weird. Pelorosaurus and Hypsilophodon complete the image. The Hypsilophodon in particular is very recognizable as a Rosewarne creation, with those stripes going over a colour gradient.

This one is just too embarassing. Edmontosaurus from Sibbick, Corythosaurus from Kish, Trooodon from Seguin. The inspirations are a tad on the nose at this point. While Graham Rosewarne is great at being Graham Rosewarne, I must admit he makes a pretty lousy substitute for John Sibbick, whose intricate detail work he doesn’t even begin to match. I also feel this is his weakest composition, though I am quite fond of the Troooodon (I never know how many o’s you spell it with) peeping from behind the flowers. It’s like it’s got flowers in its hair! The gull is an odd touch. It’s not the first time I see a good artist put what is essentially a modern bird in their dinosaur scenes. Parasaurolophus looks pretty majestic and even stern in this scene. I’m slightly lamenting the loss of that bit of skin between its crest and its neck in modern palaeoart, Para always looked great with that.

Before we wrap up part one, let’s take a look at Rosewarne’s Rexy! I don’t think I’ve seen a Rosewarne T. rex before. After all, Graham never did the really famous dinosaurs in Dinosaurs! Magazine, being instead the go-to guy for obscure taxa like your Yangchuanosaurus, your Mussaurus and your Euhelopus. The high stock dinosaurs were either drawn by Neil Lloyd or licensed from Sibbick or Robinson. For a late 80s T. rex, it ain’t too shabby. It follows the shapes of the fossil well, and I like how it’s just wolfing down a big chunk of gory meat like a monitor lizard would. The colour palette is subtle but funky and, while lean by today’s standards, it was a muscular Rexy for its day. Despite being depicted in a similar situation, this is miles better than a Normanpedia variant would have been.

Next time I’ll share more identity parade-style images from this book, providing a better indication of where Graham Rosewarne would go from here. On The Trail Of The Dinosaurs will return!

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  • Reply
    Brett Gabbitas
    August 11, 2022 at 9:34 pm

    I would point out that hands aside, the color coordination of Archaeopteryx really does fit into current ideas of the animal. Blue is right next to black, and the black feather tips is a huge structural help in most flying birds. So it should be given a pass, except for the hands part, of course.

  • Reply
    Marc Vincent
    August 12, 2022 at 1:34 pm

    “It’s raining, so we know we’re in England!” Ah yes, I remember when it rained…back in the day…

    That Archaeopteryx looks very familiar. John McLoughlin, I think. In fact, quite a few of these do.

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