Here's What We Used to Think Dinosaurs Looked Like
By Simon Worrall
PUBLISHED SEPTEMBER 2, 2017
These forgotten works of paleoart mingled scientific fact and fantasy.
Triceratops and Tyrannosaurus rex face off in Charles Knight's massive mural, which is 25 feet wide and nine feet tall. It's "the single most influential work of paleoart," writes Zoë Lascaze.
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF CHARLES R. KNIGHT, RON TESTA, AND THE FIELD MUSEUM
Since the first dinosaur fossils were discovered, the public has relied on artists to imagine what the prehistoric world looked like. Today many of the first “paleoart” masterpieces lie gathering dust in museum storage rooms, their creators forgotten. But these paintings once attracted large audiences, aroused intense controversy, and deeply influenced later visions of prehistory, from King Kong to Fantasia, as Zoë Lescazeexplains in Paleoart: Visions of the Prehistoric Past.
Paleoart is interesting because it is at the intersection of art and science. This kind of art can easily enhanced with the use of 3D Animation and visual effects. The artists in the genre were looking at fossil evidence and reconstructing the prehistoric world based on this scientific evidence. Often the fossil evidence was scant, though, so there was lots of room for the artist’s imagination to fill in the blanks with fantasy, myth, and their own fears. The very first picture we have of prehistoric reptiles is a chaotic carnivorous fight scene where virtually every creature in it is chasing another one, or getting eaten. That has carried over into our contemporary understanding of prehistoric animals and how they interacted.