TASCHEN’s stunning-looking new book Paleoart: Visions of the Historic Past, featuring a wide range of gorgeous dinosaur and prehistoric animal-inspired visuals, has just been released. And yes, it’s not cheap at £75, but it looks absolutely gorgeous!
It was 1830 when an English scientist named Henry De la Beche painted the first piece of paleoart, a dazzling, deliciously macabre vision of prehistoric reptiles battling underwater. Since then, artists the world over have conjured up visions of dinosaurs, woolly mammoths, cavemen, and other creatures, shaping our understanding of the primeval past through their exhilarating images.
In this new book, writer Zoë Lescaze and artist Walton Ford present the astonishing history of paleoart from 1830 to 1990. These are not cave paintings produced thousands of years ago, but modern visions of prehistory: stunning paintings, prints, drawings, sculptures, mosaics, and murals that mingle scientific fact with unbridled fantasy.
The collection provides an in-depth look at this neglected niche of art history and shows how the artists charged with imagining extinct creatures often projected their own aesthetic whims onto prehistory, rendering the primordial past with dashes of Romanticism, Impressionism, Japonisme, Fauvism, and Art Nouveau, among other influences.
With an incisive essay from Lescaze, a preface by Ford, four fold-outs, and dozens of details, the book showcases a stunning collection of artworks culled from major natural history museums, obscure archives, and private collections, and includes new photography of key works, including Charles R. Knight’s seminal paintings in Chicago and little-known masterpieces such as A. M. Belashov’s monumental mosaic in Moscow.
From the fearsome to the fantastical, Paleoart is a celebration of prehistoric animals in art, and a novel chance to understand our favorite extinct beasts through an art historical lens.
Zoë Lescaze is a freelance writer based in New York City, where she covers (mostly) contemporary art as a critic and journalist. As an art historian, she is drawn to intersections of science and visual culture, and spent the past four years researching and writing this, her first book. She also writes about environmental issues, and is editor of The Tortoise, a nonprofit magazine published by the Turtle Conservancy.
“When many people hear ‘paleoart,’ they picture bison, aurochs and woolly mammoths painted on cave walls thousands of years ago,” Zoe notes. “Paleoart is actually a relatively new genre, though; one that began with the boom in fossil discoveries in England, Europe and North America in the early 19th century. It’s the practice of depicting prehistoric animals as they appeared in life, and this book is a history of the wildly eclectic ways artists have imagined a world that no humans have ever seen.”
American artist Walton Ford makes paintings and prints in the style of naturalist illustrations, often depicting extinct species. Each of his paintings is a meticulous, realistic study in flora and fauna, and is filled with symbols, clues, and jokes referencing texts ranging from colonial literature, to folktales, to travel guides. The paintings are complex allegorical narratives that critique the history of colonialism, industrialism, politics, natural science, and humanity’s effect on the environment.
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