Have you ever wondered what it really felt like to live in another time, far remote from our own? Perhaps when early reptiles first became mammals, or round the campfire with some cannibal early humans? If so, nothing will get you closer then the work of Czech artist Zdenek Burian (1905-1981).
Starting out as a commercial artist, he came to collaborate with Czech scientist Professor Josef Augusta. Together they embarked on the finest canon of Paleoart ever created. If the early works owe something to pioneer Charles Knight, then Burian soon left this mentor far behind, producing works whose depth, dynamism and attention to detail cannot be matched. His landscapes capture the vast emptiness of the primeval. His action paintings, the swift movements of dinosaurs and primitive fish in mortal chase and combat. His portraits, whether of Neanderthals or mammoths create real presence and personality for their subjects. His landscapes recall Brueghel or Constable. His use of colour is like Rembrandt‘s. His eye for light and mood is as good as anything in Vermeer-or Edward Hopper, a contemporary whose work also massively transcended its commercial purpose.
It’s true that scientific advance has rendered some of his work a little inaccurate. Australopithecines did not have apelike feet, they were entirely modern. If Brachiosaurs had been as deep in the water as Burian depicts them, they would have suffocated immediately. But he worked with best that the science of the time could tell him, and to cavil would be like rejecting Velazquez‘ Seige of Breda on the grounds that details of the soldiers’ uniforms are inaccurate. Sorry, you’re missing the point.
His corpus was vast. If you want to immerse yourself in it, we have a Wikipedia link below as a jumping-off point. But good litho reproductions can be found as illustrations to the books be produced with Augusta and later Professor Spinar, which can be picked off at good prices from sites like e bay and Amazon. As you revel in the art, remember the science. For final recognition came in 2017 when the first wholly Czech dinosaur was named Burianosaurus augusta, in the honour of two fine men.
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