According to his website, Matternes worked with a great number of illustrious clients, from Nat Geo to Time to all manner of natural history museums. Based on his talents here alone, it's easy to see why. The illustrations here are all very retro now, of course, and typically early '70s in many respects - in the underdeveloped musculature of the dinosaurs, their often tail-dragging postures, and so on. However, it's the appreciation of fine detail, the often surprising dynamism of the pieces, and the entirely naturalistic feel of the animals that let us know there's an accomplished artist at work.
But before we get to all that, let's just take a moment to appreciate these excellent 1970s fashions. Rockin' those stripy trousers there, kids.
Our story begins, as it is wont to do, in the Triassic. A herd of Placerias-like beasties are hanging around a swamp, trying to avoid the attentions of a big-headed smiley fellow. At the lower edge of this scene - leading us off over the next page and on to the Mesozoic adventures to follow - are a pair of generic 'thecodonts' (possibly based on Lagosuchus or Euparkeria). Tellingly, the thecodonts seem to have had the most detail lavished upon them; they feel better textured and more solidly three-dimensional than the other animals in the scene. Which isn't to say that the whole thing isn't beautifully painted, not to mention remarkably peaceful-feeling. That can't last.
No sooner have the 'thecodonts' had a chance to evolve into true dinosaurs, than they are snapped up by some prowling phytosaur by the water's edge. (Of course, these days Saltopus is thought to have been a dinosauriform rather than a 'true' dinosaur. Sucks for Saltopus.) I would mention that the attention to detail on the phytosaur here (crater nostrils!) is commendable, but I'm being far too distracted by the water. That water's gorgeous. I might even be tempted to go for a swim if it wasn't quite so rust-coloured.
Now we're into more solidly dinosaurian territory (except for Teratosaurus).The plateosaurs are fine and dandy for the time, but I love the angry Coelophysis in the lower right. Crouched down, tail whipping in the air, mouth wide open, it's spoiling for a fight.
Perhaps my least favourite piece is this one featuring a merry band of very Knightian brontosaurs, trudging boringly off into the water to escape Allosaurus' clutches. At first glance, there isn't a lot that elevates this above a typical Knight/Burian clone, but the fantastic work done on the sky and water in particular does demonstrate a superior artist at work. Hey, dinosaurs weren't his speciality.
And now we come to the main reason I opted to write a post about this book rather than one of the many others Charles has sent me recently - a brachiosaur with a rainbow. Well, almost a rainbow. Again, at first glance, one might be tempted to write this off as another Burian knock-off (even if the brachiosaur is happily standing on dry land). However, note all the small things - the carefully shaded muscle tone, the intricately detailed head, and the single claw on each hand. And again, the sky. I love a good sky.
On to the Late Cretaceous, and the skies aren't as spectacular, but the above piece is one of my absolute favourites. It's just plain gorgeous to look at - the animals' skin textures are handled beautifully, with any number of lifelike folds, wrinkles and bony nodules, and for the time they are superb from an anatomical standpoint. I mean, Styracosaurus actually appears to have a neck and defined muscles, rather than simply being a large tube attached to four smaller, stubbier tubes. The background details are especially superb in this one - the trees are beautiful, of course, but notice also small details such as the tiny mammals directly below the Styracosaurus. Lovely.
And so to Rexy. The head may look a little strange, but this is a very forward-thinking restoration for the early 1970s, and well-researched with it. Note in particular the appropriately tiny arms (by no means a given even now), firmly horizontal posture and birdlike feet. While the muscles are rather weedy (typical of pre-Dino Renaissance thinking), this is a portrait of an alert, active predator.
Ankylosaurus, meanwhile, is also quite typical in being a "Palaeoscincus"-style mish-mash of nodosaurid and ankylosaurid features (the shoulder spikes are very Edmontonia). In spite of this, this is another very good restoration from a time when ankylosaurs tended to be depicted as short-tailed grumpy pineapples with four feet, but no legs.
Unfortunately, the book's hadrosaurs are still web-footed water-dwellers feeding on soft 'n' mushy material, but at least they're well painted; the wonderful pebbly skin texture on the foreground individual reminds me of Bernard Robinson's work, only with rather more anatomical accuracy. In spite of being so ostensibly trope-tastic (angry geography, aquatic hadrosaurs, Pteranodon overhead etc. etc.) this is still a very convincing-looking scene. Just don't mention the fact that the animals depicted here predated T. rex by millions of years (although to be fair, Rexy isn't actually in the painting).
|"STRONG AND STABLE LEADERSHIP!"|
Since the centrosaurs aren't budging, Rexy decides to tackle something twice as large and with a bad temper. As you do.
Yes, it's the front cover again. This painting doesn't quite feel of a piece with the others; the style seems to have changed, and the depiction of T. rex, formerly consistent, suddenly sports obvious differences (it's not even the same colour). It's gorgeously painted, but feels more 'retro' than the rest of the book. I'd hazard a guess that it was painted some years beforehand, and recycled here. It feels more like a standalone piece, with finer detail throughout, than the others (not to mention the fact that it seems weirdly familiar). If anyone has a clue, then let me know...
And finally...the endpapers, just as a reminder of what most other palaeoart was like at the time. Drag them tails, boys.