From the Origin of the Earth to the Extinction of Dinosaurs
This book, and the other two that will follow, try to map comprehensively the part of Zdeněk Burian's work in which he devoted himself to a unique discipline on the border of science and art, a discipline that has been called artistic paleontological reconstruction (or restoration) for many years. In recent decades, the term „paleoart“ has become established for the discipline worldwide. Its origins date back to the first half of the 19th century. Paleoart seeks to interpret paleontological findings and data with a variety of visual arts, thus popularizing the sciences of prehistoric life to the widest public. Over time, Burian is considered the dominant figure in the "classic" period of this genre.
Brachiosaurus 1941, one of the most iconic pictures of the „classic“ period of paleoart
In other words, in these books, we try to capture the whole of Burian's "prehistory.“ However, the term prehistory must first be defined and delimited, as it is a broad concept. In our "prehistoric" trilogy, we put into context those Burian images of ancient times that fall under the protection of two natural sciences, namely paleontology and paleoanthropology, i.e. the sciences researching fossils of plants, animals, and human ancestors. We don't deal with historical prehistory, which is studied by a discipline called archeology. We deal with archaeological prehistory in these books, in the third volume respectively, only when it overlaps in terms of time with paleoanthropological prehistory. Thus, on the timeline, we end at the beginning of the Neolithic, about twelve thousand years ago, when biological evolution in humans is slowing down and cultural evolution continues. Of the Neolithic scenes, we, in the third book, focus only on those in which Josef Augusta participated, as we strive to capture the Augusta-Burian cooperation in its entirety.
In addition to the prehistoric scenes themselves – from the most serious scientific reconstructions and all the preserved sketches and studies of them, through several free paintings with prehistoric themes and strong artistic overtones and various scenes from the category of genre scenes to illustrations of Josef Augusta's short stories. We also reproduce Burian's depictions of fossils, archaeological artifacts (if they fall within the time period defined by us), famous paleontological localities or paleontologists, and paleoanthropologists associated with them. We reproduce portraits of famous personalities of paleontology and evolutionary biology, who are not connected with specific finds, on the frontispiece, resp. in the introductory chapter.
Several keys were offered to sort the individual images. We chose the one that is most understandable to the reader – we follow the timeline from the origin of the Earth to the (geological) present. Virtually, we complete part of the pilgrimage of the heroes of the famous film „Journey to the Beginning of Time“, which the film itself did not capture, namely downstream of that mystical river from the primeval ocean and its trilobites back to the present. To paraphrase the name of the iconic film, we will experience a journey from the beginning of time with this trilogy. This criterion is combined with a systematic-taxonomic criterion, where a certain important group of animals is conceived as a whole and the chronological level is only a complementary aspect – for example, dinosaurs, which cover the period from the Triassic to the end of the Cretaceous.
The trilogy can thus be seen as an overview of the evolution of life on our planet. However, the main goal of the whole project is, as already mentioned, to contextualize Burian's work in this field with the state of the above-mentioned sciences in Burian's time and to confront it with today's level of knowledge. Only in this way can we outline the development of the interpretation of paleontological data during the 20th century.
Due to the chosen keys for sorting works, the other possible approaches had to be sidelined or used only partially, this mainly concerns the possible sorting of images by Burian's life timeline. Thus, we place side by side works from different periods comprising more than four decades, when the painter dealt with the topic, which naturally does not allow us to reflect the development of his artistic and professional career. We use the time sequence only when we line up the same scenes or the same animals. Another of the keys, which is used only as a secondary one, is the "incorrect" anthropocentric sorting of the evolution of life as a ranking "from lower to higher" - that is, from invertebrates to humans as the "peak" of evolution. It is an approach typical of the 20th century, and therefore of all Burian's books – that is why we respect it. In a similar spirit, for individual geological periods, (paleobotanical) landscape scenes are presented first, followed by animal depictions. We are not naturally scientifically "balanced“ in terms of geological periods, for example, the entire four billion years of the Precambrian weigh less than two million Quaternary years in the books. And third, in the same sense, we place animal groups side by side as their (often supposed) relationship was seen in the painter's time, and with few exceptions, we do not apply the latest findings in molecular genetics. We consciously leave the chronological-systematic key several times and focus on important paleontological localities, such as the Morisson formation.
Allosaurus and Stegosaurus 1950, a vision from the Morisson formation
Composition of images and captions
Volume 1 contains a total of 412 paintings, illustrations, and sketches, of which 209 items were borrowed for the possibility of reprinting from galleries and museums, and 135 items were obtained from private collectors. The vast majority of the works reproduced in this book were photographed or scanned in connection with its creation. High-quality negatives, slides, or xerocopies created earlier were also partially used. Only for a small part of the works, those that we could not track down, we reproduce scans from the original publications, in which case the label always states "original unavailable" (originál nedostupný).
We based the names of the individual works on the fact that they were the names of artifacts, and we, therefore, respect the names that were originally intended for the paintings. The vast majority were named by Vratislav Mazák in the cataloging he founded, later edited, and published in Vladimír Prokop's publications. Many animals depicted in the paintings are now classified as different species or genera after various revisions, but in our case, we do not take this fact into account in the names of the paintings, specific cases are then mentioned in the accompanying texts of the book. We capture the problems of so-called synonyms in the names of paintings only if Vratislav Mazák tried to capture them; thus reflecting the state of science until the mid-1980s at most. If Mazák thus changed the name of the animal against its original name in the publication for which the painting was originally intended, we put Mazák's name in parentheses. For school paintings and oils for the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences, we put their names in parentheses as an alternative. In the illustrations for Augustas' short stories, the titles are changed in several cases to give a better idea of the specific animals in the illustration (similarly to the paintings for Vertebrate Paleontology – Paleontologie obratlovců). In illustrations for short stories, we also state after the hyphen the name of the specific Augusta‘s story and in square brackets the order of printing the illustration within the given short story. The position and form of the signature are clear on the vast majority of reproduced images, if this is not the case, we state both the location and the form of the signature behind the dimensions of the image. Under the current owner's name, the book or the exhibition title is listed, for which the image was primarily created. Subsequently, we present the titles in which the repainted variants appeared.
Only those Burian paintings that have a final character are included in the number system by which we strive to introduce a clear order into Burian's prehistoric works. This does not include studies or sketches, however elaborate: it includes only those paintings that are a scene from prehistoric times, even those didactically stylized (see, for example, pp. 304 and 354). Therefore, we did not include images of paleontological sites, paleontologists, or redrawn fossils in the system. The images that belong to the system according to the above-mentioned criteria are sorted according to the chronology of creation within Burian's work.
Burian's more than four decades with prehistory
The Šipka cave on the Kotouč hill near Štramberk (North Moravia, currently part of the Czech Republic) was a kind of initiation place that "determined" the painter's path in the field of paleo reconstruction. That hill is a Late Jurassic coral reef full of fossils. In the cave, the skeletal remains of a Neanderthal man were found in the late 19th century. Burian played here as a boy in the 1910s, and it could be his personal magical portal to the world of prehistory.
At present, when access to detailed professional paleontological data has lost its exclusivity, hundreds of people are dedicated to paleoart as a discipline globally. In Burian's time, however, the artistic representation of prehistory on a "professional" level was a matter for only a few individuals. The artist always had (there were only a few exceptions) to join forces with a scientist-paleontologist. This created famous author pairs. There were several in the 20th century, but the Augusta-Burian pair was the most famous, even so iconic that for many people, especially abroad, the phrase formed a whole.
Paleontologist Josef Augusta invited Burian to collaborate at a time when the painter was the star of Czech narrative illustration, especially books of the adventure genre. The unique combination of his imaginative realism with exceptional attention to detail, often scientific, made him an ideal candidate for popular science, which he had proved for many years in the magazine Wide World (Širým světem), especially in the series of ethnographic-geographical scenes reproduced here called Earth and People. However, Augusta's attention was most attracted by the painter's illustrations in the novel The Mammoth Hunters (Lovci mamutů) by Eduard Štorch. The book was published at the end of 1937.
Augusta began working with Burian probably shortly afterward. Some indications are that Augusta participated in the first six of Burian's prehistoric paintings, which were created around 1935. In any case, the first result of truly full collaboration between the two authors was a 1938 oil painting of a Tyrannosaurus attacking Trachodons, which they created as a sample for a forthcoming publication dealing with the complete history of life on Earth called The Wonders of the Prehistoric World (Divy prasvěta).
It started to be published in March 1941, first in serial form at fortnightly intervals; the last parts thus came out at a time of fading Nazi atrocities following the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich. At the end of 1942, the German occupiers had already banned the distribution of the subsequent hardcover edition.
Parallel to the serial volumes for The Wonders of the Prehistoric World, Burian created illustrations for the first collection of Augusta's short stories from prehistory called Buried Life (Zavátý život). Prehistoric scenes in both titles literally captivated the readership of the time as the painter applied his unique illustrative approach to this new theme and used all the advantages of his film reportage painting, which was visually extremely modern at the time. In addition, in his way of writing, Augusta provided the painter with something extremely important to his nature and creative approach in the reconstruction – the story.
With the end of the occupation, the painter resumed his collaboration with Josef Augusta by working on his new title on Neanderthals. In 1947 and 1948, Burian created illustrations for two of Augustus' other two zoopaleontological short stories – The Lost World (Ztracený svět) and From the Depths of Prehistory (Z hlubin pravěku). The six oil paintings for the latter book soon became almost classic.
With the nationalization of private publishing houses after the communist coup in Czechoslovakia in 1948, Burian's number of illustration orders was reduced to a minimum overnight, and cooperation with Augusta was, among other things, existential salvation for him. In addition, their work soon acquired an official, state-sanctioned status. The new regime represented by the then Ministry of Information and Enlightenment did not object to the creation of paleo reconstructions, on the contrary, it supported it, and perceived it as a popularization of Darwinism, which was considered part of dialectical materialism in the Marxist-Leninist conception of the world.
In socialist Czechoslovakia, the painter was attacked from many directions and the paleo reconstruction became a kind of refuge for him. He was at the peak of his creative powers and he dealt with the topic with extraordinary dedication. He collaborated with Augusta, but also with the leaders of Czech archeology, on a series of medium- and large-format portraits of human ancestors called "About Man (O člověku)", which had a representative character and was not originally intended for reproduction. At the same time, he created a single zoopaleontological painting with a similarly representative character – a portrait of an old Iguanodon in the "cemetery" of his species. He worked on contracts for many Czechoslovak institutions, especially museums.
Iguanodon 1950 in the „cemetery“ of his species
Closely connected with the officially controlled promotion of Darwinism among the "broadest popular classes" was the organization of a monumental exhibition called The Evolution of the Universe, Earth, and Man (Vývoj vesmíru, Země a člověka), which had its Prague and Bratislava parts. Burian created six oils for each. The author duo Augusta-Burian also began working for the State Textbook Publishing House on a project of teaching aids for schools in the form of wallboards, so-called school paintings (školní výuková tabule). The painter worked at irregular intervals for almost twenty years (from 1949 until Augusta died in 1968) on 44 oil paintings of the same dimensions (approx. 64 × 95 cm), which served as the basis for these boards. Remarkably, fewer than half of them were made into school boards by the press.
By the way, one of the results of that "propaganda" approach to prehistory at the time is the famous film Journey to the Beginning of Time (1955). Apart from the classic apolitical adventures of four boys set in the imaginative scenery of Karel Zeman (for whom Burian's paintings for The Wonders of the Prehistoric World were a clear primary inspiration), the didactic-enlightening aspect is obvious, and it was no coincidence that Josef Augusta was a scientific advisor in this film.
In all paintings from the first half of the 1950s, Burian consciously or subconsciously adapted to the expectations of the time and partially suppressed his narrative, film-reporting approach to the topic (so typical for The Wonders of the Prehistoric World). With his formal expression (e.g. the layout of the composition), he turned more than ever to the painting techniques of the 19th century. However, the first half of the 1950s also includes five of Burian's most important prehistoric paintings, which belong to the so-called free creation (see Volume 2 and 3), where without the binding authority of a scientific advisor and didactic-educational requirements, guided only by his attitude and his "philosophy," the painter probably created the best works of his career.
The year 1955 was at a turning point in many ways, especially in that the author pair began to cooperate with the publishing section of the foreign trade company Artia, which helped them literally „conquer“ the world. They created a book that the renowned Stephen J. Gould later named one of the three most influential paleontological publications of the 20th century (the book also influenced artists such as Frank Frazetta). It was created from the very beginning with the proviso that it would be offered in individual language versions for all major European (and non-European) markets by contract with major publishers in individual countries. It was a kind of "turnkey delivery". The book was published in 1956, in the English version it was called Prehistoric Animals and it was also published in Czech (as the only Burian book from Artia for a long time) in the publishing house Mladá fronta under the title Hlubinami pravěku. The book was conceived more than generously in terms of graphics, polygraphy, and format; a text section is followed by 60 pictures on separate sheets, which clearly acquaint readers with the evolution of life on Earth. The book has a compilatory character, Augusta and Burian primarily chose the best of their work to date, modified many paintings with a time lag and new knowledge (this is the so-called first period of major corrections), and supplemented all this with brand new oil and gouache paintings.
After the huge success of Prehistoric Animals, Artia assigned the duo to work on another similarly conceived volume, this time dedicated to human evolution. Both authors again used the best of their work to date on the topic but compared to the first book they created many more original works – with an emphasis on scenes with Neanderthals, and especially with Cro-Magnons. Scenes from the life of the French or Moravian people of the Gravettien and Magdalenian cultures can be considered the painter's opus magnum in the paleoart field, especially in scenes where he captured the prehistoric man in the moments of the creation of the oldest art (ie paleo-art, the original meaning of the term). Burian thus created a kind of "Cro-Magnon Epic," in which the best part of his philosophy of life crystallized, i.e. the belief in the original, unspoiled civilization of man. This was a faith that corresponded to the Rousseau ideal of the noble savage and that the painter in his present projected into the lives of the so-called primitive people. In portraying these "Indians of the past," Burian largely relinquished the aforementioned academic-museum approach to his reconstructions of the first half of the 1950s, and again emphasized his typical "illustrative," narrative approach. It can be said that this is the most artistically valuable cycle of the painter's career. What's more paradoxical is that in the book, probably for spatial reasons, eventually only half of the series was used! The book was published in English as Prehistoric Man in 1960, but the paintings were painted as early as 1958.
The first half of the sixties is most of all connected with four Artia books following the highly successful Prehistoric Animals and Prehistoric Man. Burian worked on these four titles in 1960, 1961, 1962, and 1964 (always published one or two years later). The first was Prehistoric Reptiles and Birds about pterosaurs, Archaeopteryx, and Mesozoic birds (with two oil paintings on the theme of Doyle's Lost World), in a smaller square format, atypical for this series. The Book of Mammoths followed, which can be considered Burian's most beautiful book on prehistory in terms of the painter's top work with high-quality reproduction and book design. The painter himself considered the reproductions for the Japanese version of this book to be the best ever. The other two titles were Prehistoric Sea Monsters and The Age of Monsters, about Mesozoic sea reptiles and the megafauna of the Tertiary and Quaternary respectively. All these books were again published in many languages except Czech. Burian was very much irritated by this fact, which he made clear in interviews from that time. For the communist regime at the time, these books were a source of hard currency, so they did not want to dilute it by wasting printing capacity for the "non-lucrative" Czechoslovak market.
The following five-year period, 1965–1969, was the painter‘s least active in the Paleoart field. Although Artia had large plans with other representative publications, only one title passed from the plans to the implementation phase. In 1967, the duo (probably in collaboration with paleobotanist František Němejc) created a total of 17 oils for a book with the working title History of the Forests (Dějiny pralesů). It was supposed to be the first purely paleobotanical title of both authors with special regard to the carboniferous flora. However, the title was never completed, as preparations were interrupted in early 1968 by Augusta's sudden death.
Professor Augusta's end was truly unexpected. Coincidentally, it happened just before the beginning of the democratization period called „Prague Spring“, but his death mainly marked the end of the so-called classical paleoart period. A period of distinctive artistic individuals, such as the American paleoartists Charles R. Knight and Rudolf Zallinger, or the Austrian painter Franz Roubal, a period of famous author duos (Knight-Osborn, Abel-Roubal, Harder-Bölsche), a period when Neanderthals were seen as hairy hunched primitives and dinosaurs as dull clumsy errors of nature, doomed to extinction. Robert T. Bakker marked the end of this era with a famous drawing for Ostrom's description of the bird-like, dynamic Deinonychus, which dates the beginning of the so-called „dinosaur renaissance“, i.e. a completely new interpretive view of this group of vertebrates.
In his "post-classical“ period, that is, in the last decade of his career, Burian adapted to these changes, he continued to be a top paleoartist, but he no longer seemed to belong to the new era. This was partly because just at the end of the 1960s his work began to show fatigue and uncertainty. Either way, Burian soon acquired a pair of new professional advisors. For Augusta's student and successor in the position of professor of vertebrate paleontology at the Faculty of Science, Charles University, Zdeněk Vlastimil Špinar, it was more or less logical. Zoologist Vratislav Mazák became acquainted with the painter as his admirer during the 1960s, sharing a passion for large felines, especially tigers. In 1966, they created the first "reconstruction" together, but not a paleontological one. Burian painted Amur, the famous male Ussuri tiger from the Prague Zoo, on a big canvas in his natural habitat in eastern Siberia. This created an image that already carried all the typical attributes of their subsequent cooperation in the field of paleoart. Painting on the border of scientific illustration, with the individual in an idealized, didactic posture, moreover with a somewhat academically realistic environment. The strength of the paintings from Augusta‘s period lay, as already mentioned, in their illustrative nature, i.e. storytelling, action, use of visually attractive compositions, and other compositional "tricks." The power of the best paintings created with Mazák, on the other hand, lies in simple, "classic" compositions, the viewer is mainly affected by the "philosophical aspect" of the central individuals, which is generally typical of Burian's paleoart, but excels even more in collaboration with Mazák.
Burian was approached by Bernhard Grzimek, a German naturalist and writer, in the second half of the 1960s. He offered him a collaboration on the encyclopedic project Grzimeks Tierleben, a kind of modern version of Brehm's Animal Life. And Mazák has become a professional guarantor for this series of paintings. In 1967, he and Burian created several tempera for volumes about birds and reptiles, and Mazák was already able to enforce some of the latest scientific findings here – such as "fur" in pterosaurs.
With the general easing of Czechoslovak social conditions in the second half of the 1960s, the regime allowed more direct contact between the painter and the West, and so, in addition to Grzimek, the Italian artist Rinaldo D’Ami also addressed the painter. D‘Ami led a team of illustrators working on a series of children's encyclopedias about animals, and Burian was invited to collaborate on a volume on prehistory (Guarda e scopri gli animali della preistoria/Prehistoric Animals, 1971).
After Augusta's death, Artia decided not to continue with the planned series of publications and focused on a completely new title, this time not monothematically focused. They again published a book with an overview of the evolution of life, thus a kind of updated version of Prehistoric Animals. The working title was Encyclopedia of Prehistory and Špinar was chosen as the author of the texts. Over 130 works from the Augustanian period were selected, including many never published. Many reconstructions had to be corrected again after years, so we are talking about the so-called second period of major corrections. Twenty-seven paintings were newly created directly for this book. New paintings were mostly from 1970.
Špinar cared much more than Augusta about the evolutionary or "geological" importance of a given species or habitat, even at the expense of their "spectator attractiveness." For Augusta, the bizarreness of the reconstructed species was crucial, especially in connection with the strong story in the background, while for Špinar, something like this was largely unimportant. Both were top educators and popularizers, but both with different approaches. Contrary to what has been said, most of the paintings for this book with the final English title Life before Man respect the visuality of Augusta‘s period, and the Tarbosaurus image (p. 511) for this publication closes this period (and also the aforementioned classical era of paleoart).
Tarbosaurus bataar 1970, a picture that ended the „classic“ period of paleoart
Before the actual release of Life before Man (1972), both scientists worked with the painter on one subsequent cycle. In 1971, Burian and Professor Špinar created twelve oils for an upcoming encyclopedia with the working title Man and Nature. The Encyclopedic Institute of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences worked on it. The whole project was canceled with the emerging communist "normalization" after the Russian invasion, and all twelve oils were incorporated into the sixth part of another project of this institute – The Small Czechoslovak Encyclopedia (Malá československá encyclopedie), sixteen years after their creation. These paintings are already easily distinguishable from the Augustanian period, either by their classic composition, which is related to the encyclopedic character of the paintings or by the contrasting colors, which were atypical for Burian until now. Here, Špinar again chose, with a few exceptions, scenes in which he wanted to depict those animals or paleontological localities that the painter had not worked on until then.
If the paintings for the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences had an "encyclopedic" character, then the same is doubly true for the paintings for the next cycle from these years. He painted them under the professional supervision of Mazák at the turn of 1971 and 1972 for the last, supplementary volume of Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia. The painter created a total of 13 oils for this special part dedicated to the evolution of life on Earth. German authors had always suggested merging a large number of species into a single scene, but this form of reconstruction was not Burian's own. Together with Mazák, they discussed the final version with a German publisher for a long time, nevertheless, the resulting oils can be considered problematic due to their excessive schematization and poster color.
In 1972 and 1973, Burian completed the sale of most of his hitherto created paleo paintings to the Moravian Museum and its Anthropos Institute, which was then headed by anthropologist Jan Jelínek. Jelínek initiated the purchase and transfer. At the time, Burian received many offers from the world for the complete purchase of his prehistory, but he rejected them for patriotic reasons. The financial aspect did not play a role for the painter, he sold his entire monumental work to the Brno institution for a negligible amount, even in the context of the time. In addition to being a Czechoslovak center of Paleolithic research, Burian chose Brno also of Moravian patriotism. The institution also promised the painter that it would build a special pavilion for the permanent exhibition of this unique collection, which unfortunately has not happened to date.
In 1974, Burian drew and painted a number of line drawings and oil paintings for Mazák's opus magnum in the field of paleoanthropology, a book titled How a Man Was Born (Jak vznikl člověk), subtitled „The Saga of the Genus Homo“. With the oil portraits of Gigantopithecus or Ramapithecus for this title, finally published only in 1977, the authors probably reached the peak of their collaboration. This includes also the oil Mazák and the painter created for the cover of Živa magazine in 1975, which introduced the audience to a completely new type of human called Homo ergaster, in the scientific description of which Mazák participated. The description of this type of human was the greatest success for Mazák in the field of paleoanthropology.
In addition, between 1974 and 1977, the painter, together with Professor Špinar, created 25 paintings for the university textbook Vertebrate Paleontology (Paleontologie obratlovců), which was being prepared by the scientist. Špinar again, similarly to Life before Man or the cycle for the Academy of Sciences, focused on evolutionarily important groups and interesting solitary species, either newly discovered or older, but not covered by Augusta. He focuses also on landscape shots reconstructing significant Czechoslovak localities with vertebrate finds and especially discoveries of Polish-Mongolian expeditions in the Gobi Desert, including Mesozoic mammals. These paintings reflect Špinar's harmony with the rising dinosaur renaissance, with which Mazák also strongly harmonized.
Barosaurus 1976 demonstrates Burian's openness to the dinosaur renaissance
Already in 1970, Mazák wrote an article in the Živa magazine "Dinosaurs and Zdeněk Burian", in which he states that the painter portrayed dinosaurs (especially the limb position of ceratopsids) in this new vision as early as the early 1940s. Burian reacted positively to the dinosaur renaissance, his attempts to cope with Bakker's drawings are interesting, yet we feel that the painter's "terrible lizards" from the 1940s and 1950s are somehow more "true". In 1975, Burian began collaborating with another scientist, anthropologist Josef Wolf, whom Artia urged to write and compile a large representative publication on human evolution. The 70-year-old Burian was literally overwhelmed with work at the time, and he was also burdened by mental and physical ailments. This is inadvertently reflected in these oils, which with their awkward figures sometimes give a panoptical impression.
In 1977 and 1978, the painter worked on two of Artia's books in a "pocket" format and with the character of a natural atlas. The first book was named Prehistoric Animals and Plants (1979) and in addition to the obligatory selection of older items (often severely cropped due to the nature of the book), 16 color gouaches were created for this title under the guidance of the National Museum vertebrate paleontologist Josef Beneš. As a scientist, the painter logically focused on Cenozoic mammals, especially ungulates and carnivorans. A kind of counterpart for Beneš's book was a similarly conceived volume by Vratislav Mazák Prehistoric Man, published in 1980, for which the already well-coordinated duo produced 7 gouaches and 7 oils, in which they repeated the compositional schemes of their previous works.
The last book project with a prehistoric theme was a book called Prehistoric Life on Earth (Die Welt der ausgestorbenen Tiere/Svět vymřelých zvířat) – Artia’s third book, which could be published in Czech at the same time as or shortly after the foreign language edition. Its author at the time was Burian's youngest collaborator, Bořivoj Záruba. The painter no longer held the finished book in his hand, it was not published in German until after his death in 1982, and in Czech and English a year later. Burian worked on it in 1977 (partly probably in 1979). This book was aimed more at the child reader, the emphasis was on pictures accompanied by brief texts. There were illustrative diagrams and pictures with a simplified instructive character.
In 1977, Jan Skořepa, an admirer and student of Burian, introduced Zdeněk Burian to Josef Vágner, a long-time director of the East Bohemian Zoo and Safari in Dvůr Králové. He challenged the painter to create an image for the zoo depicting the evolution of life on Earth. His original idea was based on Rudolph Zallinger's two famous murals, „The Age of Reptiles“ and „The Age of Mammals“, which are large-scale panoramic paintings at Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History. However, Burian rejected such a physically demanding project due to his age. In the end, he promised Vágner to create an equally demanding cycle of 34 paintings measuring 120 × 155 cm and 120 × 100 cm, which in total meant by far the most extensive painter's project in the field of paleoart. Mazák became a professional advisor and Burian between 1977 and his death managed to complete 22 canvases. The painter suspected that he might die in the middle of the project, and in order for the cycle to make sense even in such a case, he was creating the paintings gradually in the rhythm of individual geological eras. For these canvases, as with some of his 1950s oils, Burian adapted the composition and painting style to the fact that the paintings were intended primarily for installation in an exhibition, not for reproduction. More than ever, the painter indulged in the smallest details, and in almost every painting he became intoxicated with interesting atmospheric phenomena. And perhaps in anticipation of his death, he filled many of these paintings with a calm, contemplative atmosphere with lots of old or dead trees and rotting trunks. Although Mazák was a supporter of a new view of dinosaurs, he and Burian returned to the traditional concept. Perhaps he was led by the fact that these were paintings for a permanent exhibition intended for the general public and not for a university textbook reserved for a narrow circle of insiders, as was the case for paintings for Špinar's Vertebrate Paleontology (at the turn of the seventies and the eighties many Czech laypeople including Czech public knew almost nothing about the dinosaur renaissance).
In the 1970s, the painter's work enjoyed considerable popularity abroad thanks to a series of Artia books of the Augustanian era, and it was again supported by the title Life before Man. With the knowledge of certain inertia, more than 20 paintings from the "classic" period, which appeared in the prestigious publication Our Continent by the National Geographic Society (the publishing house sent its photographer to Czechoslovakia at that time) can be described as the culmination of this response. The painter's paleoanthropological reconstructions of the 1970s also reached the West through repeated editions of Wolf (1977) and Mazák (1980), but their response to the lay and general professional public was smaller than that of the Prehistoric Man (1960) paintings. Zoopaleontological reconstructions from the last decade of the painter's life were practically unknown to the Western audience (and partly also to the Czech audience) until the mid-1990s. To this day, they cause embarrassment, and for many people abroad even the impression that they had to be created by another artist.
Since 1978, Burian (except for a few paintings for Mazák and Špinar) has focused only on the series for Dvůr Králové Zoo, he did not have enough strength for other larger projects. Even though he was overwhelmed by "prehistoric" commissions in the last decade of his life, the painter, thanks to his essential honesty and extremely responsible approach to creation, performed the tasks stoically. He believed that it was his life mission, that, as he said, he was born to do so. The social significance of this part of his work was unquestionable to him. Although he had to use words about the "development of a scientific worldview" in interviews for media of the communist "normalization“ era, the painter entirely authentically believed in the power of human evolution sciences to "prove the absurdity of racist theories." In addition to knowing the enormous impact his books had on adolescents, he was fascinated by the subject until the last moment. As he said: "You know, a person who has been doing something as wonderful as studying human evolution for over thirty years will find it difficult to paint a still life with two mugs."
When the painter died in mid-1981, his unfinished cycle for the Dvůr Králové Zoo made sense in itself, but it was still considered how to supplement it. Directly offered was a magnificent collection of more than thirty oils for school paintings, which until then lay in the depository of the national company Komenium. Two years after the artist's death, a permanent exhibition, supplemented by these paintings, was finally opened. A year later, Špinar‘s Vertebrate Paleontology was finally published, and three years later (sixteen years after their creation) paintings for the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences in one of its encyclopedias. In the 1980s, however, not many books with Burian's illustrations were published and the only significant exhibition at which his prehistoric paintings could be seen after his death was opened in 1984 in Olomouc. Finally, after eleven years, in 1983, Artia received permission to publish Life before Man in Czech.
With the return to democracy in Czechoslovakia in 1989, there was a general Burianian boom, which, however, only partially concerned the painter's prehistory. Exhibitions with painter's book illustrations were held several times a year in the 1990s, but important canvases from his paleo work appeared (and do appear) only sporadically. In the 1990s and early 2000s, Burian's prehistory found itself in a special position: the whole paleontology (especially its parts focused on the research of dinosaurs and human ancestors) developed rapidly at that time and Burian's paleo reconstructions quickly became outdated from a professional point of view. The last two titles where Burian's paintings could still be taken seriously in terms of a credible accompaniment to a popular science text about prehistory were Bořivoj Záruba's new book The Journey to Prehistory and the new, updated edition of Life before Man in the mid-1990s. The latter-mentioned book was published again in several foreign versions, and in contrast to the 1972 edition, its pictorial part was supplemented with Burian's paintings from the 1970s. Zdeněk Burian and his paleoart have since become respected classics. Burian was already a legend during his lifetime, but over time his uniqueness became more and more obvious. The factual side of his paintings is obsolete, but their natural-historical and, above all, artistic aspect will remain permanently part of the golden fund of the entire discipline.
Burian's more than four billion years of prehistory
Burian did not start creating the first Precambrian paintings until the post-Augustanian period. Together with Zdeněk Špinar for Life before Man, they reacted to the huge development of geology and planetary science in the 1960s. In 1977, together with Josef Beneš, Burian also reconstructed the Ediacaran biota.
The Early Paleozoic (Starší prvohory) was covered by Burian with many paintings of the legendary Czech geological-paleontological area called Barrandian. In 1971, Špinar also created a scene of the Burgess Shale (pp. 78-79). He closes the Early Paleozoic with scenes with the tetrapod Ichthyostega.
Burian created iconic Late Palaeozoic (Mladší prvohory) scenes of the Carboniferous forests based on abundant finds in the Czech lands. He also dealt in detail with the so-called stegocephalians from the Nýřany region and the Boskovice furrow. These tetrapods were the focus of both Josef Augusta and Zdeněk Špinar.
Edaphosaurus became the most important creature of the Late Paleozoic for Burian. In connection with it, the confusion with the composite Naosaurus is interesting, which Josef Augusta clarified only in the mid-1950s when the most famous repainting took place in the entire Burian paleoart (p. 187).
The Permian scenes are closed with Burian's gorgonopsids. However, his Sauroctonus on p. 211 is actually Inostrancevia. The painting was created in collaboration with Augusta. After his death, Špinar mistakenly identified the animal for Life before Man.
Sauroctonus and Scutosaurus 1966, the gorgonopsid is in reality Inostrancevia
The Mesozoic (Druhohory) is once again opened by landscape scenes, where the painter reaches his peak as a paleoartist-landscape painter with his sequoias, stylized araucarias and tree-like ferns, and Bennettitales ("cycads with flowers").
The author duo devoted themselves to the mysterious Chirotherium in 1955 and thus completed W. Soergel's calculations. After an absolutely exceptional depiction of invertebrates after the end of the Early Paleozoic (ammonites and belemnites for Grzimek's encyclopedia), we see a large block dedicated to the German Triassic formations – Muschelkalk and Keuper. With the nothosaur as Burian's most important Triassic beast (he modified its head in many paintings with Mazák in the early 1970s).
The development of crocodilians is followed by a block dedicated to ichthyosaurs with the painter's iconic scenes of "dolphin-like" groups of the genus Stenopterygius. This is followed by plesiosaurs, mosasaurs, and the entire section of Mesozoic marine reptiles culminates in the Cretaceous of Kansas with two iconic scenes of Tylosaurus fighting with Elasmosaurus (pp. 342 and 344-345).
The pterosaur part begins with Dimophodon, which Frank Frazetta copied a few years later on one of his fantasy covers. In the 1970s, under the leadership of V. Mazák, Burian repainted his older pterosaurs with "fur" (pp. 358 and 365). On page 360 we see a photograph of one of the seven "lost" school paintings (for more about them see Volume 3). The scenes of the pteranodons feeding their offspring are the only paleobehavioral interpretations that the Augusta-Burian duo were the first to portray.
The largest block of the Mesozoic logically belongs to the dinosaurs. The painter's dinosaurs from the Augustanian period are a mix of a very progressive view (especially in the posture and locomotion of ceratopsids – pp. 472-573 and 497) with the iconization of the traditional pre-Bakkerian view of these creatures (see Brontosaurus on pp. 412-413).
Burian's paintings of Iguanodon (1950), Brontosaurus (1950), Tyrannosaurus with Trachodon (1938), Brachiosaurus (1941, which is physically and physiologically completely wrong), and Tarbosaurus (1970) were engraved in the minds of people in the second half of the 20th century around the world and were copied countless times. Burian's Iguanodon from 1950 can be considered the most valuable work in the entire history of the Paleoart.
As part of the division of the dinosaur block, after the Triassic scenes, a separate subsection is devoted to the Jurassic Morrison Formation (later similar blocks dedicated to the Cretaceous of the Gobi Desert or the Judith River Formation can also be found). In the case of sauropods, Burian and Mazák and Špinar later dealt with the position of the nostrils (several paintings were repainted).
Burian's postclassical dinosaurs agreed with Bakker's ideas (see Cetiosaurus on p. 391 or paintings for Špinar's Vertebrate Paleontology on p. 426, 452-453, 454-455, 456-457, and 482-483). With their last series (for the Dvůr Králové Zoo), Mazák and Burian decided to return to a conservative approach.
In the section devoted to the development of birds, we see interesting studies devoted to Heilmann's theory of the origin of birds from the so-called thecodont reptiles. The whole theory culminated in a painting from 1960 on page 516. Archaeopteryx was portrayed many times by the painter for its evolutionary importance. The most iconic (and thus also the most copied) became the one from p. 527.
The final part, which is a kind of prelude to Volume 2, is devoted to Mesozoic mammals, especially the discoveries of Polish paleontologists in the Mongolian Gobi Desert.
Burian's creative method
A total of four "personalities" competed in Burian as an artist, and it was in his paleoart that this was most evident. The first one was a Burian the Romantic, an uncomplicated and playful man captivated by the atmosphere of the full moon or the combat of a man with a shark. The other one was a Burian the scientist, obsessed with detail, whether a Siberian shaman's costume or the mouth of an allosaur male. The third one was a Burian the "moralist", a Burian the educator and the pedagogue, whose life credo was that art must educate and serve in the best sense of the word. While these three "personalities" in Burian fought each other brutally, the fourth seemed to stand outside. It was a Burian the "philosopher," a personality that is difficult to define and rather subconscious. With these foundations, Burian entered the world of adventurous exotic romance and applied them phenomenally. And prehistory was nothing but a new challenge for all these "personalities." The Jurassic world was as good for them as the world of Gran Chaco.
In terms of form, the "prehistoric" Burian is as old-fashioned as the "adventurous" Burian. His painting technique is based on the methods of the 19th century (the Austrian paleoartist Franz Roubal from 1920 is therefore much more modern in artistic terms than Zdeněk Burian from 1960) and the painter never leaned towards any artistic movement. He had much in common with the artists of the 19th century in his thinking; just like them, he was captivated by the silhouette of a bizarre reptile against the backdrop of an erupting volcano or tropical night sky (pp. 286 and 434-435). His duel of the Tylosaurus with the Elasmosaurus (p. 342) is just a realistically crafted artistic vision of the "Victorian era" (see Riou's engraving from Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth) with all its attributes of dark bizarreness and mystery. On the other hand, Burian can be a very modern, new (almost postmodern) man who, with extraordinary ease, incorporates progressive elements of Hollywood film or reportage photography of his time into his paintings (he often arrived at these elements completely independently). He is not afraid to take a pair of plesiosaurs from a completely unexpected perspective (p. 332).
Tylosaurus and Elasmosaurus 1941, Burian’s variation of the 19th-century classic
The scientific aspect of Burian's reconstructions arose in close contact with scientists. It was always consulted with a professional advisor countless times before finalization (and gradually changed in the developed picture). Repairs were often made even after years (or decades, with another expert). The two periods in which these corrections were concentrated were mentioned above (1955 and 1970). Of course, the optimal technique for such a style of work is an oil painting, because it is ideal for later repainting.
To this day, Burian's paleoart is unique in how holistically its reconstructions are conceived. This holistic approach consists mainly of how well-thought-out the phytopaleontological aspects and the broader "geological-climatological" conditions of the scenery are in paintings that are focused on prehistoric fauna. In some paintings, a whole constellation of scientists guaranteed that the result was perfect from the point of view of contemporary science. (At the same time, despite the above mentioned, Burian's preparations for reconstruction cannot be compared to the possibilities available to today's elite Paleo-artists, such as John Gurche.) The holistic nature of Burian's scenes also includes the fact that the painter's scenes stand up in an ecological-behavioral point of view, namely that his animals react very naturally with their surroundings and other species, despite the fact that in his time these aspects of paleontology were still given relatively little importance.
Burian created several preparatory sketches for each scene. He talked about the preparation process in many interviews: “It is not possible to take a canvas, a palette and start painting right away. First, there are several drawings, where the basis is always a skeleton. Finally, I have the approved shape of the animal and its head, and limbs in motion… Then I make them on a piece of paper in colors and finally in a large format on canvas. ” This was the case, for example, with school paintings, in which some of the elaborate watercolor studies on paper have survived to this day (e.g. Brown Coal Forest, 1950 or Deinotherium, 1951 – Volume 2). Burian continues: "Reconstruction (…) is hard work." "The creation of the image is really strenuous and responsible. I'll get a skeleton, sometimes incomplete, sometimes its photo." It has to be added that in the vast majority of cases he had only a photograph as a basis, he, in Czechoslovakia of his time, did not have a chance to get to the real fossils of most of the vertebrates he depicted. Even with this handicap (pointed out by Mark Witton), he was able to surpass Charles R. Knight, who worked in the heart of the most prestigious natural history museum in the world, the American Museum of Natural History in New York. “A skeleton is assembled from skeletal material; I then draw this in the positions I consider most appropriate for the future painting." "The movement can be represented by the displacement of the bones. It's a bit like a cartoon.” These words are beautifully illustrated by many sketches reproduced in all three volumes of the monograph. "Then we supplement the skeleton with muscle." "Before it comes to life, it looks like a skinned rabbit." However, there are relatively few such scenes in the painter's work (as the sketches we reproduce prove again). Burian mostly skipped this phase, he didn't need it because he knew the anatomy perfectly – as a self-taught person. In this, too, Knight, who studied anatomy professionally, was surpassed by him. "It's best seen on horses. Every muscle is beautifully visible there. After all, I've been painting horses since I was a kid. We had them at home. Horses and dogs." "And by the way – the horse's anatomy is decisive for all quadrupeds, the changes in their muscles are only slight."
Traditional art historians blame Burian for being too focused on detail, but this is a clear misunderstanding of the function of artistic paleo reconstruction. For this, of course, detail is crucial. The painter himself said: “It depends on every detail. If the animal in the foreground is painted with all the details, the color of the fur, the eyes, the claws, and so on, the background must be painted in the same style.” "My imagination is only in the composition of the image and its mood." At the same time, he knew that if anyone in the author duo could at least partially unleash that imagination, it was him. "Each of the scientists has to take care of his reputation, so he doesn't dare to 'fantasize‘." Of course, Burian himself was not a natural scientist; in this respect, professional supervision was necessary for his paleoart. However, he managed to be very inspiring to scientists with his layman's view, see, for example, his interpretation of the death of a group of Ethiopian australopithecines (Volume 2). Sometimes, with his legendary intuition for which he needed no formal education — it was based on his unique observational skills — he even was ahead of scientific knowledge. For example, in the locomotion of dinosaurs or the gender of a finding of an early member of the genus Homo (Volume 3). As a person who believes in the pantheistic character of "Nature," he had a rather reserved relationship with evolution as the official scientific theory of his time, the so-called neo-Darwinism. Juraj Gullár, Burian's student, talks about Burian’s understanding of the "motion of matter."
Burian inserted the above-mentioned "philosophy" unknowingly into his paintings, not thinking that he might want to philosophize. That philosophy, which is a kind of his author's license, lies primarily in Burian's specific "existentialism." Elements of loneliness and sadness, a kind of Burianian melancholy, play a huge role in him. The characters in his paintings are mostly lonely individuals, maximally small (family) groups. Sadness is contained in the expression of many of his animal heroes, and it does not matter whether it is an old Monoclonius (p. 468) or a wolf, much of the painter's soul can be seen in their faces. It is the supreme pathos engraved on the faces of the old Iguanodon or Styracosaurus (pp. 441 and 477), the poetic pathos that is the goal of Burian's endeavor. However, foreign theorists see this melancholy and sadness as a dark (sometimes the adjective brutal is used) aspect of his scenes. Abroad, the painter's visions of the Neanderthals have always resonated in this regard. This interesting observation is often related to the political atmosphere of Central Europe in Burian's time. Although some such judgments are somewhat stereotypical, it is indisputable that the spirit of the time, but also the painter's difficult childhood and youth, certainly influenced the atmosphere of his paintings.
Monoclonius 1948, an example of Burian‘s contemplative attitude in paleoart
Augusta‘s fiction short stories became the inspiring platform for the motives on which he was based, in which he could apply his philosophy and which were necessary for his artistic approach. However, Burian chose only what he wanted, his approach was free of all expressive bloodthirsty brutality (Augusta officially refused it, but his stories are still full of it). There is almost no blood in his paintings. His fighting animals are usually captured just before they blow, squeeze, or bite. And two fighting predators are rather an exception with him.
There are certain elements in Augusta's short stories that made Burian artistically extremely excited, such as the victim's fatal surrender to his conqueror. That is, something completely unacceptable to today's generation of paleoartists. For Burian, however, it is something extremely powerful – that Iguanodon's pathetic reconciliation with destiny (p. 437), that (super)human suffering of Brontosaurus or Edmontonia (p 408, and 494). Probably the strongest element for Burian is the motif of a lonely dying individual – the end of the life journey of an old Iguanodon in a "cemetery of its species" (p. 441) or the heroic death of a giant deer Megaloceros or the Berezovka mammoth (Volume 2). For Burian, death is a matter of extreme intimacy, free from all sensationalism. This is one of the reasons why there is no scene of a catastrophic end of dinosaurs in his work.
One of his artistic approaches, and his author's license, is that he distributes his sympathies or antipathies to his heroes. Journalist Ondřej Neff recalls an interview over one painting: ZB: "This is such an unsympathetic reptile." So which one is the most likable? ZB: “I prefer Iguanodon. But I don't like the Tyrannosaurus. His dwarf hands… Some animal is beautiful, yes, some is not beautiful. There is nothing that can be done about it.“ His prehistoric animals are "personalities“, and Burian identified with these creatures. At the end of the creative process, he tried to tell us his experience, his "obsession with nature," as Juraj Gullár called it.
Burian's main tool is synthesis. In his adventurous-romantic work, as the theorist, Petr Sadecký, said, "he composes his ideal lion out of many photos of lions." His paleo reconstruction is about two aspects of understanding this synthesis. There are two seemingly contradictory approaches. The first is a synthesis of scientific data transformed, in the words of Vratislav Mazák, thanks to Burian‘s "specific vision of nature, combined with an exceptionally developed sense of shape, its biological function and usefulness" into the resulting artistic reconstruction. Several years before Mazák, an art critic Miroslav Klivar hinted at a similar thing with words about Burian's understanding of the analogy and homology of form. All of the above was based on the painter's extraordinary observational skills in a broader sense. Burian himself said, "I can only say that I live by observation."
The form that Burian visualizes that "synthesis" is its specific composition and choice of colors. Sometimes he expresses "everything" with a simple monumental vertical composition – as in the oil Mammuthus (Parelephas) trogontherii, 1961 (Volume 2) or preferably in the painting Tarbosaurus bataar (p. 511). At other times, he "scatters" the individual elements intricately (and yet intuitively) throughout the image. As a student of late Burian, Juraj Gullár speaks of the most important thing he gained from Burian, as the realization that the most perfect system is purposeful chaos. In this sense, he speaks of Burian's synthesis as the composition (again, rather intuitive, unconscious) of individual meaning-forming elements and symbols in an effort to communicate his "obsession with nature." In his eyes, this is Burian's true art.
Gullár even goes so far as to speak in connection with Burian's understanding of nature about a completely independent understanding of the laws of the Japanese art of ikebana and bonsai. The main role here is played by the so-called motif of three, which is contained, for example, in the image of three Elasmosaurus individuals (p. 340) or in the depiction of the family element – father, mother, and son in the second version of the proboscidean Deinotherium motif, 1951 (Volume 2). Here, in Gullár's understanding, Burian disengages from the disturbing element of the python (from the first version, 1940) and lets the viewer influence only his pure composition.
And here we encounter that second understanding of Burian synthesis. They are presented by Petr Sadecký's realistic-journalistic concept. He sees as the main thing that will survive, not science (which, according to him, is transient), but romance, an adventurous-romantic element of Burian's paintings. In this sense, on the contrary, he understands the most mature version of Burian's Deinotheriuml search the first one from The Wonders of the Prehistoric World, where he perceives the python not as a disturbing element but as a carrier of romantic excitement and criticizes the 1951 version of the "pose for the pose" of the old male…
In Sadecký's conception, Burian synthesizes from the motives of other authors, chooses what he needs, and adds his perfect technique, his main external uniqueness, a feeling for the surface, for structure in the most general sense of the word (from anatomy to geomorphology) and finally mainly adds its romance. The result is convincing, and at the same time stimulates the imagination. In later years, however, Sadecký began to talk about a significant element of plagiarism in connection with the "synthesis from the motives of other authors." Let us add that Burian's method is in some respects not entirely original. Augusta himself says in an afterword of The Wonders of the Prehistoric World: "… If possible, we based the reconstructions on skeletal material published in professional monographs, taking into account all older and newer pictorial reconstructions, if they were made." We have to say that they were made, the painter and Augusta probably did not depict a single species that someone else had not artistically reconstructed before them. However, originality in this regard was not the most important thing for Burian. The painter wanted to insert his view, his "personalities" outlined above, all his "external uniqueness" and, last but not least, his "philosophy" into scenes from prehistory.
Two examples for all: first Abel reconstructed the Solnhofen landscape, then Burian came, took over all the elements of this drawing, including the ramphorhynchus in the sky, and created one of his gems, 2nd version of the motif "meeting of the Compsognathus with Archaeopteryx" (p. 526 and 528-529). And the example for understanding Burian's "inspiration" perhaps even clearer: H. Kalmsteiner, following a design by F. König, created an amusingly amateurish scene of a prehistoric proboscidean‘s encounter with a saber-toothed tiger. Burian no doubt saw it – and then created his own version. It is an inspiration that is completely legitimate, just as legitimate as contemporary artists are nowadays inspired by Burian (in addition to the parallel existence of obvious plagiarism, of course), as Mark Hallett in the creation of his fighting Triceratops males. He took over all the main attributes from Burian's Arsinoiterium rut – both males in exactly the same situation and positions (only taken by the creator from a different angle), even that romantic forest and the "indifferent" female remain in the background. The whole Hallett painting is inspired in a completely creative way (and at the same time it is a tribute to the old master).
Compsognathus and Archaeopteryx 1950 as a result of Burian’s „synthesizing “ method
Stephen Jay Gould defined the approach of the paleoartists of the 1970s and 1980s as postmodern – that is, playful, original, iconoclastic – with the most typical representatives being Gregory S. Paul and especially William Stout. Burian's method, characterized by Gullár-Sadecký's synthesis, aimed to express his "philosophy" and "vision of nature", and those postmodern elements are more of a by-product. These are the exceptions seen only in the "second plan" - meant figuratively and specifically in the background of his paintings. Thanks to Burian's first "personality" (the playful Romantic mentioned above), these postmodern elements in Burian’s work often flash, but not to a greater extent, because the painter naturally created in a different scientific-historical context.
Burian enters the scene when Charles R. Knight reigns in the field of paleo reconstruction. At a time when dinosaur orthodoxy is reaching its climax. The depiction of (not only) dinosaurs then stabilized in a kind of, in the words of Stephen Jay Gould, "a modern consensus." Burian clearly follows Knight and overcomes him in every way. In any case, the two are the most famous paleoart creators, and people of the major part of the 20th century saw prehistory through their eyes. In both of them, their paleo-creation is timeless in its beginnings. For Knight, this is due to the unconsolidated dinosaur orthodoxy at the end of the 19th century, a time that was still completely open to different opinions and concepts. After getting into the machinery of a professional team at the American Museum of Natural History, his work becomes one of the pillars of that orthodoxy.
Even Burian is timeless with dinosaurs at first. In his case, this is due to the not yet fully consolidated process of creating an "ideal reconstruction" in the author pair: Augusta leaves some freedom to the painter, and his feeling and naturalness are not yet suppressed. And fortunately, they will never be completely suppressed. The two great paleoartists together formed the so-called Knight-Burian era in the first seven decades of the 20th century. The era that followed the Hawkins-Riou era. The time when this activity still had a very romantic touch, which is now irretrievably gone, as Gregory S. Paul points out. The period of famous couples: Osborn – Knight, Abel – Roubal, Augusta – Burian. This "classical" period ends in 1968 when Augusta dies, and the new, postmodern or, say, Renaissance, begins a year later with the publication of Bakker's visualizations of the running Deinonychus in Ostrom's famous study. As already mentioned, Burian concludes "his" era heroically in 1970 with the legendary Tarbosaurus bataar oil.
The Knight-Burian period was entirely connected with the science and state of social thought of the time, Gould's internal and external factors. Although Augusta, compared to his predecessors, under the influence of Othenio Abel understood paleontology as a science much closer to biology than geology, it was still a rather descriptive discipline (in contrast to today's contextual one with a clear focus on ecology and ethology). The paintings he created with the painter were not a visualization of the original paleobiological ideas, they were primarily a kind of "mission" – the spread of evolutionary teaching. In addition, Augusta‘s work has the whole character of anthropocentric thinking, so typical for society at the time, in which evolution is conceived as steps leading to an imaginary peak – humans. Indeed, Burian does not deal, with a few exceptions, with invertebrates after the older Paleozoic in his entire work. The painter took this "mission" extremely seriously. Due to his third "personality", he considered the scientific and pedagogical side to be almost sacred, which led to his sometimes blind obedience to scientists. One of the main criteria for creating the "ideal image" was the didactic criterion. This played a key role, often suppressing Burian's nature. The painter himself said: "As a rule, there is always one exact reconstruction in the painting and the other animals are in different positions, where of course my knowledge of anatomy, perspective, etc. will be applied." Let us give three examples: the first – Pteranodon ingens, 1960 (p. 380-381). A group circling over the Kansas Upper Cretaceous Sea, all individuals on the left and back are fantastically natural – like live jet fighters. The "central individual" on the right seems to be frozen as if hung in a museum on the lines someone had overpainted here. The body is in an unnatural position so that none of the body proportions are distorted by perspective so that the number of fingers and the shape of the claws are absolutely clear… School paintings were exemplary for the application of didactic aspects (e.g. A Settlement of a Prehistoric Man from the Early Stone Age, 1950, Volume 3). First a preparatory sketch – on it, the whole group of Neanderthals is excited by the presence of woolly rhinos behind the stream. But already here, under the man in the foreground, there is a "threatening" painter's note – "calm posture" written. On the resulting canvas, the man is already standing like a statue, completely ignoring the surrounding events. And one last example: both of Burian's scenes of the Silurian shelf world. The first is a school painting from 1951 (pp. 86-87). Everything is influenced by those didactic aspects, everything is bound by strict rules. The cephalopods are symmetrically arranged, each "focused" in the same way, one never overlapping the other. The older version of The Wonders of the Prehistoric World (pp. 84-85) has not yet been bound by such strict didactic rules. With the blurred shadows and silhouettes of the nautiloids in the background, we will not find anything like that in the school picture. Nevertheless, both belong to the Burian‘s classics.
Sadecký speaks of Burian as a "court painter" of prehistory. He thus encounters his idealization of reality, its deformation, a kind of its censorship in the sense of the phenomenon that Sadecký generally calls "antisepticism." According to him, Burian excludes all details and elements which, according to the painter, are disruptive due to their overly naturalistic realism. He also transfers the scientific rules for "ideal reconstruction" to the level of his own artistic approach. So, exceptionally, we see blowing dust, feet buried in mud or steam at the trunks of mammoths. We can explain this with the already mentioned "reconstruction law", which always orders to clearly show all the important morphological features, not excluding the tip of the trunk. This is undoubtedly the case, but Sadecký is convinced that "idealization" has passed into Burian's "state of mind." Burian excludes all unaesthetic things (remember his third "personality") – Sadecký speaks of Burian's "Victorianism." Dung and excretion (as we can see at Stout or even at Henry de la Beche) or flies flying around the stinking mouths of beasts, we won't see in Burian. And mating? There is only one exception, and that is given by the painter in a highly lyrical form (p. 324).
According to Sadecký, Burian seems to be losing his courage in his quest for maximum seriousness. He didn't need any of Gurche‘s "dust vortex simulations," which wasn't a problem for him, but rather that he didn't dare. Sadecký recalls August's statement: "Only no wilderness." (This conservatism, on the other hand, allowed them both to avoid embarrassing mistakes.) Example for all: Burian's pterosaurs almost always have their wings in a horizontal position in flight, slightly above it at most, never below it, it's okay with pteranodon gliders, but it sometimes seems unnatural for Rhamphorynchus and Pterodactylus. With this "idealization" approach, Burian got into certain clichés, especially with the postures of individuals. As a result of the main, i.e. didactic criterion (time stress often played an indisputable role), we can see most of the quadrupeds in Burian’s work in the right or left half-profile from a slight top view.
Sadecký finds the ideal of the paleoart in the work of the Italians Giorgio De Gaspari and Sergio Budicin for the book Guarda e scopri gli animali della preistoria (for which Burian himself created the paintings) and especially the already mentioned William Stout, in their quest for maximum originality. According to Sadecký's ideal, big fish should swim between limbs of Burian's famous Tendaguru Brachiosaurus (pp. 428-429) …
But is Sadecký's overtaking in originality and romantic elements a real goal? Certainly not. As has already been said, there are many of those "postmodern" elements in the painter's prehistory. But these are not the most important, there are just so many in Burian's work that they do not become self-serving. Burian's genius in paleoart lies elsewhere. The painter became a legend thanks to the fact that he fully devoted himself to this topic, that he put all his phenomenal talent and diligence into it, and that with a persistent effort to balance the four "personalities" mentioned above tried to get the result – to see and capture those long-extinct worlds. As he said: "Maybe it's just such a quality, a gift I've always had. (…) I guess I was born for this profession."
Tyrannosaurus and Trachodon 1938, the painting that made Burian one of the elites of world paleoart