Zdeněk Burian

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Unlike other artists, Zdeněk Burian made a name for himself as an illustrator and painter of prehistoric life. He is regarded as the most influential Palaeo-artist of the modern era, for a career that spanned six decades Burian made a name for himself in his native Czechoslovakia and gained a large following internationally as well.  Burian’s reconstruction of extinct animals and plants gave him a large name; he consulted with various palaeontologists and anthropologists before embarking on a painting. Apart from being a prehistoric life painter, Burian was also the illustrator of many adventure books including famous cover for Jules Verne, Karl May, Jack London and Eduard Štorch to name a few.  The scale of Burian’s painting is so large and extravagant that many artists have tried to emulate his style and haven’t succeeded. Many art experts believe that with Burian’s work, it wasn’t a painting that they saw but rather a photograph – complete with real-life capture. This is how real Burian’s paintings looked.

Zdeněk Burian was born in 1905 in the province of Koprivnice in Czechoslovakia. From the beginning Burian excelled in the field of art, he was readily accepted into the prestigious Academy of Fine Arts in Prague. At the age of 15 Burian took out his first book cover illustration, despite being known for painting prehistoric life Burian’s bread and butter remained book cover illustrations. The small town where Burian was born played a large role in his fascination with prehistoric life and early man. Koprivnice is considered to be one of the early settlements of early man and prehistoric life. It was the first real inspiration for a budding young artist who would go on to become the master of fossil reconstruction. Burian’s work – both as a book cover illustrator and prehistoric painter – has played a large part in the making the younger generation start reading books. Burian had no idea his works would inspire a generation to read so much. With Burian’s work he was able to tap into the viewer’s minds, he made them see unknown worlds and enabled people to play with their imagination. He also made people finally notice the art of paleontology by giving it more depth and bringing it to life by painting about it. In simple terms he put paleontology on the map. Burian’s masterpiece Bushmen, is a stunning painting of early man. The painting is set in deep tones of brown and mustard and shows four early men around a fire. In Burian’s painting there is no savagery but a deep respect for the way the early settlers were trying to make a living. The painting also depicts what the food chain was back then and the life cycle as well.

Burian was a very prolific artist, there are to date around 1500 works of his which exist worldwide both paintings and drawings. Apart from this he made around 700 book cover illustrations, even today many of Burian’s work gets featured in best-selling paleontology and anthropology books. Even in today’s age of internet and social media, no artist has the capability to truly match Burian’s genius in painting prehistoric life. It’s a marvel to comprehend that Burian’s paintings were solely based on his conversations with paleontologists, anthropologist and basic skeletons that he saw. The rest was all down to his imagination.

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