Vintage Dinosaur Art: Tiere der Urwelt (Reichardt) – Part 3

Vintage Dinosaur Art

We’re back with more German dinosaur cards from the Reichardt cocoa company! In parts one and two, we discussed two series of 1900s illustrations by one F. John. In the late 1910s, Reichardt once again hit the market with collectible cards themed to extinct animals. Incidentally, after Series 1 and Series 2, the third series was numbered Series 1a, because that’s what makes the most sense. The original featured artist, F. John, was, not to put too fine a point on it, a bit of a hack. For their third card series, Reichard enlisted the help of a different artist: Heinrich Harder.

Harder is a bit of an unsung hero in the history of palaeoart. At this point in this life, he was already an experienced artist who taught classes at the Prussian academy of fine arts in Berlin. Specializing in landscapes, Harder came to palaeoart late in life. He worked with science writer Wilhelm Bölsche for some articles and books in the late 1900s, before being commissioned these thirty illustrations for Reichardt around 1916. Some of these cards are updated versions of illustrations he made for Bölsche, but a lot of them are all-original, as well. His other major palaeoart works are the murals of the Berlin Aquarium, partially destroyed in World War Two and restored in the 1970s, but those are a story for another day. Once more, these scans are from

The differences between F. John and Heinrich Harder couldn’t be greater. Harder is a far more accomplished and honestly much more serious artist, who did what he could to give his creatures a basis in science. He also wasn’t above adding his own creative and speculative touches. He was also, as we shall see, occasionally given some dodgy scientific advice.

Ignoring the obvious for the moment, this Stegosaurus is pretty good. Anatomically not quite on the level of Joseph Smit, maybe, but placed in a simple but lively landscape and full of character. This is the version of Stegosaurus with two parallel rows of plates, and an eight-spiked thagomizer. Most interesting of all is the serration on the plates; I don’t know if this was something Harder came up with, or if this was requested by his commissioners or scientific advisors. On the front end of the animal’s back, the plates seem to be joined together, to give a more ridge-backed impression. But you’re probably looking at its legs. That dinosaur has some intensely bent knees. This is very much emblematic of Harder’s dinosaurs, and it’s about to get much, much stranger.

Here it is: one of the most famous oddities of vintage dinosaur art. If you are at all familiar with Heinrich Harder, this might be the first image of his you think of, and I often refer to this when I talk about the “Harder sprawl”. There was a school of thought, started by Oliver Hay and adopted by Gustav Tornier, that dinosaurs in general and sauropods in particular had been interpreted wrong by the likes of Owen, Marsh and Cope and that their limbs were more lizard-like and splayed. This illustration is probably the most notorious and extreme example of this idea in palaeoart. So what’s up with this? Timur Sivgin has written an excellent piece about it here, so I won’t elaborate too much on the how and why.

This isn’t the only, or the first, sprawling sauropod in palaeoart. I guess the reason why the legs stick out so much (pun not intended except I totally intended it) here in particular is that Harder has the rest of the anatomy of the animal down so well. If you compare this to earlier illustrations by F. John and Oliver Hay, you can tell that Harder spent time looking at the skeletons and thinking about the underlying bone and muscle structure. He follows Tornier’s swan-like Diplodocus skeletal quite faithfully. Ironically, the result is an animal that makes absolutely no sense. Those legs seem to want to be straight underneath it. In order to support the animal’s massive weight this way, you might imagine it having quite big thighs and biceps… but it doesn’t. It has scrawny lizard muscles. What a dreamlike image; the animal seems to defy the laws of nature.

Looking at an image that takes Tornier’s ideas on dinosaurs seriously, you can see why his views didn’t catch on. But let’s give credit where credit is due: Tornier did imagine Diplodocus to have a flexible, swan-like neck that it held erect, and that seems to be broadly in keeping with modern thought on sauropods. We’ve seen a lot of WWD-style stiff beam necks in the years to come. Look past the legs and this really is a decent and well-researched piece of dinosaur art.

I praised F. John for their water effects but Harder is definitely in a higher tier in that regard. Such magnificent, detailed waves! Compared to most ichthyosaur reconstructions, Harder’s are pretty strange; much less of the familiar rounded dolphin shapes and more sharp, fishy ones. The snouts and fins are pointy, the eyes huge and glassy. Even though it’s technically an example of shinkwrapping, Harder shows his familiarity with the odd anatomy of the ichthyosaur flipper by showing all those weird bones on the one that’s jumping the highest.

What I said about waves and water also goes for the more sedate waves in this plesiosaur piece. This is also the first example of an animal facing left! I always have slightly less to say about marine reptile artwork. The skulls are well-observed, as far as I can tell.

Here’s a wonderfully moody piece of pterosaurs at sunset. I think we’re looking at both short-tailed Pterodactylus and long-tailed Rhamphorhynchus, both German species. There’s a lot you could pick apart here in terms of anatomy, but at least Harder makes them into animals rather than the shrieking monsters we’d see in palaeoart before this. The clouds are very nice. I love the use of perspective, with a strongly defined foreground, middleground and blurry, faded background. Harder applies this throughout his work. Let’s not forget Harder was illustrating a bunch of collectible cards, his generation’s equivalent of pogs. He really didn’t need to go so hard, but he did and I’m happy he did. I’m fond of the F. John cards, but the step up the Harder series represents from the John series is very profound.

Here’s an early Archaeopteryx. I can’t think of many older ones besides Knight, though Archaeopteryx was known to science for a very long time. A resident of Berlin, Harder would have been very familiar with Archaeopteryx. Depicted on the shoreline, Harder’s Urvogel is curiously seabird-like. I’ve often seen it look duck-like, but Harder’s vision seems to make it more like a gull. The dreaded claws on the wings are especially pronounced. The one in the foreground actually seems to use them for balance and foraging. The other one seems to be coming to take a look. There’s a sense of narrative here. The dragonfly, the beached ichthyosaurs and the starfish are nice details.

Harder’s Iguanodon is excellent for the time. Gone are the far too literalist iguana-like touches from Hawkins and the earlier works by Heilmann; these are fully, unambiguously, dinosaurs, with sleek bodies, big feet and strong muscles. I love the raised-up tails, although the one in the very background still seems to drag its tail. If there’s anything letting the side down, apart from the Tornier-advised sprawling legs, it’s the hands. They look very flimsy and lizard-like, and don’t communicate the thumb’s proposed role as a defensive weapon very well. These Iguanodons don’t quite hold up as well as Gerhard Heilmann’s running Iguanodons from around the same time, but this is a vision of Iguanodon that would stand the test of time for decades to come.

This is probably my favourite Harder dinosaur piece. It’s atmospheric in a subtle way. I love what he does with skies and landscapes, and with blurring in the distance. Being a landscape expert, I guess that is to be expected. The landscape here looks quite familiar, quite a contrast to the alien, rocky planets with dramatic orange skies F. John placed his dinosaurs in… There’s really no comparison between the two Reichardt artists. The piece is quite similar to certain Knight Trachodon pieces, but Harder adds his own idiosyncrasies. The skin is more rough and pebbly, and the tails are, once again, not dragging! There’s those weird bent limbs again in the background one, but Knight’s Trachodon had that, too. The other thing that is striking is, of course, the shockingly round, staring bird eye. Very different from Knight. It does make this hadrosaur look unsettling, but isn’t that just what animals are like sometimes?

The Pteranodons are extremely peculiar, with relatively very small heads and the same “dip” in the neck we saw in Robert Child’s Pteranodon. Their wings look absolutely huge. The other curious feature is the round markings on the wings, showing that Harder could have some fun with colours on mesozoic reptiles; it’s too bad his dinosaurs are all just sand-coloured and dull. I can only think of one modern animal with markings like that: the dangerous blue-ringed octopus. I guess they both have beaks?

Harder’s dinosaurs and dinosaur-adjacent reptiles are fun, but his true strength lies in mammals. Compared to the Deinotherium reconstructions that came before this one – by the likes of Edouard Riou, Josef Smit and indeed F. John, this illustration is a tremendous leap forward. Before this, no piece of palaeoart by anyone not named Charles Knight was ever this lively, detailed, dynamic and realistic. In palaeoart past, Deinotherium had been standing around idly, or raising its trunk and snarling, but Harder makes it a fully believable animal simply by making it interact with its environment, in the way any elephant would. And yet, it’s unmistakably not just an elephant, with some weird stuff added to it. It is its own, unique beast. I love the little ridge from its neck to its chest; a testament to how well Harder knew his animals. And the ones in the water once again add depth and flair. Outstanding palaeoart, all in all. I think Harder would be more fondly remembered if, a few decades later, Burian hadn’t come around and raised the bar further still.

This Elasmotherium piece even reminds me of Burian, avant la lettre. There’s something very Burian about the look in the animal’s eye, lots of character and grit. I like how Harder has made it stockier than a horse, but more gracile than a rhino; a cross between the two. Elasmotherium was probably more rhino-like than this.

This is one of the Harder pieces I’m not really feeling. The short hair of the Elasmotherium looked good, but Harder has trouble really getting the shagginess of Megatherium to make sense. It looks like JPEG-fuzz more than anything. The neck seems attached to the body in a weird way. The face is interesting, with black, beady eyes, big cheeks and the nose and mouth of a deer. I guess he was going for “sloth”. Very different from the tapir-like or moose-like snouts you’d see in contemporaries like Robert Bruce Horsfall. I like the foliage, but the animal is a rare misstep from Harder.

This is another one of the more infamous Harder pieces, prime material for memes, not because of the glyptodont, but because of the humans. They may be hunting for meat, but they’re serving cake. This is the only piece in all of the Reichardt series with any humans. Oddly, that also makes it one of only two pieces in the series with predator-prey interaction. The other is an illustration of an aurochs fighting off wolves. There’s a tension here absent from other Harder pieces. Values since 1916 have come far enough that I’m rooting for the glyptodont, even though that probably wasn’t Harder’s intention. I have no comment on how accurate the humans are to what we know of prehistoric civilisations in South America, but the glyptodont looks competently done to me.

There were two more sets in the Reichardt Tiere der Urwelt series, and the numbering made no sense whatsoever. Series 2a was a rehash of some of the popular cards from the previous sets, including the F. John sets. Then series 3 was a new series again with original artwork by Harder. The problem is: it’s all mammals. It’s good, perfectly good, and it’s all mammals. I know we’ve had mammal-centered blog posts in the past but I’m not going to do that, I’m way out of my depth there. You can check them out for yourself here.

So that’s the Reichardt series, and that is the work of Heinrich Harder. I feel Harder neatly bridges the gap between Knight and Burian. Those two are much worthier points of comparison for Harder than F. John is. He truly is an original of vintage palaeoart; his mastery of landscapes, attention to detail, use of perspective and dedication to the science makes him hold his own in the shadow of Knight as one of the minor palaeoart greats of the early 20th century. Look beyond the ridiculous sprawling limbs and there’s a real talent there.

And now, I think I’m going to have a hot chocolate.

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  • Reply
    Zain Ahmed
    February 7, 2024 at 12:29 pm

    “This is the only piece in all of the Reichardt series with any humans.”

    So I guess the moa piece doesn’t count?

  • Reply
    Ilja Nieuwland
    February 18, 2024 at 4:06 am

    With Tornier’s Diplodocus, the thing is that Tornier started from the tail, and maintained that it couldn’t physically make the bend downwards necessary for it to drag on the ground. Instead of rearing the tail, however, he lowered the entire animal. Jingoism may have played a certain role in the whole crawling dinosaur phenomenon, but it was mainly motivated by the desire to bring paleontology closer to biology – in Germany, particularly.

    I don’t think Sivgin’s article is all that great, by the way; he bases himself exclusively on 20th century literature apart from Probst’s book and a lot more had appeared by 2020, including a detailed study of the history of D. carnegii (ahem).

    • Reply
      T.K Sivgin
      February 19, 2024 at 6:20 am

      Hey, thanks for the feedback. I was younger, still inexperienced and using the information that was immediately available to me. Is there anything wrong I wrote that you would like me to update?

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