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Zdeněk Burian

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Zdeněk Michael František Burian (February 11, 1905 - July 1, 1981) was a Czech painter and book illustrator. He is known as a painter whose work played a central role in the development of paleontological reconstructions.

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His artworks are estimated to number more than 15,000 paintings and drawings (pen and pencil). He illustrated over 500 book titles ( including natural history subjects and numerous classic novels such as Robinson Crusoe, Tarzan, Plutonia etc.) and some 600 book covers, but it is within the fields of paleontology and paleoantropology that Burian's influence has been most notable.

Since the 1960s when Burian's work became known in the west, most illustrated scholarly books on prehistoric life have featured his work, either
as originals or as art based closely on them.

Many of Burian's early paintings appeared in a series of large format books with text by Augusta, the first of which, Prehistoric Animals, was originally published in Czechoslovakia by Artia ( 1956 ) and later in many other countries including Italy, France, Germany, England and Japan. The late S.J. Gould, who was an enthusiast of the work of Charles R. Knight, described it as one of the 20th Century's three most influential visual books on prehistory ( many would suggest that it was the most influential ), and it was followed by a series of other landmark titles: Prehistoric Birds & Reptiles, Prehistoric Sea Monsters, The Book of Mammoths, and Prehistoric Man, all of which became famous and collectable in their own right. The influence of Burian's work is clearly discernible in many later films depicting dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals, right up to the Jurassic Park series.

Burian worked in initial cooperation with university palaeontologist Josef Augusta from 1938/39 (during WW II all universities in Czechoslovakia were closed due to the German occupation) and subsequently ( following Augusta's death in 1968 ) with Zdenek Spinar, painting magnificent reconstructions that represented all forms of prehistoric life, from the earliest invertebrates to a vast array of fish, amphibians, reptiles ( including dinosaurs ), mammals and birds, as well as panoramic vistas of the landscapes in which they lived. Close to 500 prehistoric images were painted by him over a period of five decades from the early 1930s to the late 1970s.

Burian's as first reconstructions of dinosaurs are all the more remarkable when one considers that he did not have access to skeletal material, but rather depended largely on drawings and photographs provided by Augusta and Spinar. His paintings vary from A4 to square metres in size, and
many of his originals are on exhibit at Dvur Kralove Zoo (especially his large oil canvas), at the National Natural History Museum in Prague and at the Anthropos Museum in Brno (particularly his anthropological reconstructions).

Some of his paintings have become iconic images within palaeontology and anthropology, especially his frequently reproduced paintings of Pteranodon ( pterosaur ), Elasmosaurus ( plesiosaur ), Tylosaurus ( mosasaur ), Diplodocus, Brachiosaurus, "Brontosaurus", Styracosaurus and
Tyrannosaurus, Trachodon.

His evocative depictions of Ice Age mammals and a remarkable series of paintings of early hominids through to modern man are without equal (he also painted extant native peoples of the world, including those of Africa, South America and the South Pacific ). Burian sometimes painted more than one version of a paleontological subject ( particularly if the first version had been painted in b & w ) examples being Dimetrodon, Tylosaurus, Brachiosaurus, Diplodocus, Stegosaurus, Brontotherium, Arsinoitherium, Phororhacos, Archaeopteryx etc.

Whilst some of Burian's earliest palaeo works were inspired by the American paleo - artist Charles R. Knight (see for example, his first renditions of Stegosaurus and Brontotherium ) Burian's work was less stylized and more convincing (particularly with respect to the landscapes ) and soon became very highly regarded among palaeontologists, especially in Europe.

Most of Burian's works were done with oils, both in colour and black and white, and exhibit keen attention to detail and unmistakable realism, while maintaining a strong presence and sense of atmosphere. A feature of many Burian paintings, and one that is missing from the work of other paleo artists of his time, is the realistic effect of movement and action, which was achieved not only by the dynamic positions of the subjects, but by a clever 'feathering' of the edges of moving objects (eg. waves, leaves or palm fronds) to produce an effect of photo-realism.

It has 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 ( Burian was already well accomplished at painting natural history subjects before he began painting prehistoric scenes ).

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