[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index][Subject Index][Author Index]

MAURICE WILSON



Dan Varner asked for information on Maurice Wilson.

Wilson was indeed one of the best and most influential restorers of prehistoric
life and his material is incredible widely published. His most famous paintings
of prehistoric animals - at least as far as I am aware - were the 50 or so that
were published as collectible cards and distributed in PG Tips tea packets. The
series came out some time around 1977. I don't remember that far back as I was
busy learning to talk and walk. The album for these was called _Prehistoric
Animals_ and featured a truly awful painting of a tyrannosaur, a _Triceratops_
and a volcano on the cover: not a Wilson painting. If you do not have this book
with all of its cards, you do not know Wilson art. Includes all classic
'prehistoric animals' as well as some gems like _Mandasuchus_, one of the
earliest popular pictures of _Deinonychus_, a beach-crawling _Cryptoclidus_, a
**grey** _Phorusrhacos_, and a black mosasaur.

David Day's _Encyclopedia of Vanished Species_ includes an absolute pile of
Wilson artwork that was never published elsewhere - Wilson did all of the bear,
wild dog, big cat and marsupial illustrations in there as well as some of the
ungulates. Marvel at his thylacines and white wolves. There are several wildlife
books for children exclusively illustrated by Wilson. Richard Carrington's
_Mermaids and Mastodons_ is illustrated throughout by Wilson.

> I am hoping that some of you out there in the U.K. can help me. Are any of
> you familiar with Maurice Wilson, the artist who did so many restorations for
> Swinton and Carrington? I believe he was the first artist to do "modern"
> dinosaurs with erect limbs and horizontal backbones and also fully erect
> Australopithecines and other homonids  back in the fifties and sixties. Is it
> possible to contact him? He certainly must be the most underrated of
> paleoartists. Thanks, Dan Varner.

Wilson art is totally unique and immediately identifiable to the trained eye.
I find his method of depicting soft structures like fur or grass the most unique
aspect - may sound unimportant but it is superb realism and aids creation of
amazingly real scenes. Wilson took this further by painting some animals with
a 'grizzle' to their fur (a kind of floating grey sheen, the result of reflected
light on the light-coloured tips of hairs) - something I have never seen
reproduced with half the accuracy and panache. 

Another remarkable - almost peculiar - aspect of his art is 'The Scale Factor'.
It is hard to appreciate without a painting there in front of you, but Wilson
could create scenes and animals that had a definite scale, yet deceptively the
animals always looked to be much smaller than they are supposed to be. I grew
up thinking that _Glyptodon_ was house cat-sized and that _Mosasaurus_ could fit
in your bath thanks to Wilson. This is not a criticism, but homage to an amazing
optical illusion that I still marvel over (Wilson's style of painting: not
getting a mosasaur into a bath).

Wilson's art, like that of nearly all 'palaeoartists', reflects the thinking of
the day, and is not therefore 'accurate' by modern standards. Hadrosaurs stand
waist-deep in lakes and suck on piles of waterweed, tails drag on the ground,
and theropods and ornithopods tend to stand bolt-upright on straight, columnar
hindlimbs. Some of his bipedal dinosaurs stand or run/walk with near-horizontal
backbones, and in fact a few of his theropods (all _Megalosaurus_ so far as I
remember) have their tails way, way off the ground. In other restorations he
appears to have carried the tail out horizontally from the sacrum, but then
inserted a funny hump that arches it up and then down to drag on the ground.
This is most marked in his hadrosaurs where it is truly an anatomical
inaccuracy. These inconsistencies in dinosaur design reflect uncertainties
inherent to dinosaur science before the Ostrom-Bakker paradigm: Wilson was
working at a time in which modern views of dinosaurian biomechanics and anatomy
were not widely accepted.

Though I have a lot of his art in books, I know next to nothing about Wilson the
man. This is both because I have never looked, and because it's not really
available information. I recall hearing that the man is sadly no longer with us,
but then I heard the same for Alan Charig, so I'm not sure if it's correct. I'd
be interested if anyone knows any more.

I'm off to Lyme Regis to dig up Liassic ichthyosaurs.

The countdown continues: 15

DARREN NAISH