Palaeontological reconstructions Zdenek Burian

Zdeněk Michael František Burian (February 11, 1905, Kopřivnice, Moravia, Austria-Hungary – July 1, 1981 Prague, Czechoslovakia) was a Czech painter and book illustrator whose work played a central role in the development of palaeontological reconstruction. Originally recognised only in his native Czechoslovakia, Burian's fame later spread to an international audience during a remarkable career spanning six decades (1930s to 1980s). He is regarded by many as the most influential palaeo-artist of the modern era, and a number of subsequent artists have attempted to emulate his style.
Although Burian's reconstructions of extinct life are very convincing, his often-reproduced dinosaur reconstructions were all the more remarkable in that he did not have access to skeletal material, but rather depended largely on drawings and photographs provided by his collaborators Augusta and Špinar (although Czechoslovakia had a notable history of palaeontological research, it lacked dinosaur fossils). In many cases, he undertook anatomical reconstructions of his subjects before depicting life restorations, and sometimes painted more than one version of an animal (particularly if the first version had been painted in black and white), examples being Dimetrodon, Tylosaurus, Brachiosaurus, Diplodocus, Stegosaurus, Brontotherium, Arsinoitherium, Phororhacos, Archaeopteryx amongst others.





 Many of Burian's early works were accompanied by text from Augusta (often in an almost story-book fashion) and it is within this context and time frame (1940s to 1968) that Burian produced his most memorable and famous works which were used as educational aids in schools across Czechoslovakia to show the succession of life on Earth. His style reflected a classic, almost romantic imagery that rarely showed animals fighting or preying on each other (although some paintings did show carnivores with their prey, they were generally depicted either before the confrontation or after the prey had been dispatched). Two years after Augusta's death, Burian painted what is regarded as his last classic image, the famous 'heroic' Tarbosaurus bataar of Mongolia (an image that was also widely reproduced and copied).






 Following Augusta's death, conditions were increasingly placed on Burian's artistic licence and the scientific detail of what he painted, whilst he was also being asked to depict different species within the same scenes but as individual, non-interacting animals as in a montage. Given his background as a novel/action-scene illustrator, and the close collaboration with Augusta the 'story-teller', Burian viewed the subjects of his paintings as very real animals (as would a natural history artist), and the new restrictions did not sit well with him. An example of how his work was compromised is evident in another version of Brachiosaurus that he painted in his later years under the direction of Vratislav Mazak; the animal, now shown on dry land, appears oddly out of proportion and fails to compare to the celebrated 1941 version. In his later years, Burian was in demand by publishers requesting bland, catalogue-like stand-alone prehistoric animal images as illustrations for reference books, a style that Burian neither favoured nor excelled at.






 Burian's works, which vary in size from A4 to several square metres, were mostly executed in oils, both in colour and black and white, and exhibit keen attention to detail and unmistakable realism whilst maintaining a strong sense of atmosphere. Whilst his style was very traditional, it was combined with a dynamism that represented a break with the often staid palaeo-reconstructions of previous artists. A feature of many of the paintings, and one that is missing from the work of other palaeo artists, is the realistic effect of movement and action which was achieved not only by the dynamic positions of the subjects, but by a clever blurring of the edges of moving objects (such as the tips of waves or palm fronds in the wind) to produce a clever effect of photo-realism. It has often been noted that Burian's renditions appear to have been painted from life, so close is the perceived association between the subject and its environment. This is perhaps not surprising given that Burian was already well accomplished at painting natural history subjects before he began painting prehistoric scenes.Wikipedia




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