Paleoart: Dramatic portrayals of prehistoric creatures

Updated 9th August 2017
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Paleoart: Dramatic portrayals of prehistoric creatures
Written by Oscar Holland, CNN
Paleontology may be considered a science, but there's an art to it nonetheless. With fossils raising countless unanswered questions -- from dinosaurs' temperaments to the texture of their skin -- attempts to envisage prehistory have always involved elements of guesswork. And for almost 200 years, paleoart has been filling the gaps in our knowledge.
By piecing together available science and their own creativity, paleoartists have enraptured generations of dinosaur lovers. But their artwork also offers insight into the science and art of their day, according to a new book on the subject.
"Paleoart: Visions of the Prehistoric Past" explores the history of paleoart, from 19th century engravings to bold Soviet-era oil paintings.
A collaboration between writer Zoë Lescaze (who previously worked as an archaeological illustrator) and painter Walton Ford, the book charts how portrayals of dinosaurs have evolved since the birth of paleoart in the 1830s.
An 1857 engraving by François Pannemaker, for instance, shows two serpentine dinosaurs -- one with a devilish forked tongue -- facing off as volcanos erupt in the background. Meanwhile, post-war paleoartists like Ely Kish, who painted dinosaurs for the Canadian Museum of Nature, opted for hyper-realism informed by the latest research.
Despite the artworks' diversity, every vision of the prehistoric world serves to remind us of two things: humans' capacity for imagination and the limits of our knowledge.
"Paleoart: Visions of the Prehistoric" is available through Taschen.