|Well, I don't read
Czechoslovakian, so I've had to piece together most of what follows. If I
make some factual errors, it's not from
lack of effort. Much of the following biographical data is from a short
essay by Camille Cazedessus, Jr. in his long running fanzine, ERBdom,
issue #68, March 1973.
Zdenek Burian (Zdenek is pronounced "Zeh-DEN-yeck" because there's a little "v" over the n. "Burian is "BURR-ee-yahn" - pronounciation courtesy of the eminent William Stout - thanks, Bill.) was born in 1905 in Moravia, Czechoslovakia. He was to become one of the most influential depicters of prehistoric life of the century, rivaled only by Charles R. Knight.
In 1923 he was enrolled as "a student in the second year" at the Academy of Graphic Arts in Prague. I assume that to be equivalent to a Sophomore in college. He was a published illustrator at the time. Apparently he wasn't making a living at it, though, as he worked as a construction laborer to pay his tuition. He flunked out of school and moved outside of Prague. He performed odd jobs for a living while he painted adventure illustrations, effectively teaching himself "using different techniques" until developing his own style. The economy of the time forced him further into the surrounding countryside where he became a "backwoodsman" for a time, living off the land. This personal bond with nature would follow him his entire life and give his paintings a reality that was honest and special.
Zdenek Burian a Paleontologie, by Vladimir Prokop, in what I take to be a listing of his published work, lists illustrations for an edition of Robert Louis Stevenson's David Balfour in 1921. That would make him 16. Other illustration work followed, and in 1927 he began a long association with the publisher Vilimek. His work began to appear in their magazines for boys: World of Adventure and Young Readers. The following year he illustrated, among other books, Srdce, by Edmondo de Amicis. The frontispiece to the book is above left and one of the many line drawings is above right.
Throughout the 1930's he primarily illustrated stories by both Czech and English/American writers. A lot of it was Western fiction by the likes of James Oliver Curwood, Zane Grey, and a German author named Karel May. Also receiving the Burian touch were translations of Kipling, Verne, Dumas, London, etc. The image at right is from 1937 for a Kipling story. Quite an improvement over the Srdce illustration of nine years previous. A lot of this material was done for another publisher with whom he had a long-term relationship, TaM. He would work for both TaM and Vilimek almost into the 1950's.
during this time, his fascination with prehistory was first manifest. a
Paleontologie shows two examples from this period. One is a 1932 scene
of Neanderthals fleeing a herd of mastodons and the second, from 1935, is at
left and presages the Augusta books that were soon to come.
Augusta is Professor RNDr. Josef Augusta, DrSc. and spent a majority of his career as a paleontologist in the attempt to clearly describe and communicate the past to modern readers. "Perhaps (his) greatest assets are his ability to convey the significance of vast numbers and huge sizes, and the way he succeeds in linking the distant past of our planet with our modern life." His association with Burian can be traced as far back as 1941, when his name first appears in the a Paleontologie bibliography.
work was much more than just creating illustrations for text. He created his
drawings "under the direction of " Augusta, implying a close collaboration
that resulted in the most accurate (for the time) recreations of the fauna
and flora of the early earth. The images were very popular and appeared in
many books about dinosaurs and prehistoric man. Burian's attention to detail
and his knowledge of nature helped him create the definitive views of the
past for those of us growing up in that era. That Cro-Magnon hunter at left
was a very familiar image when I "rediscovered" it in my copy of
Prehistoric Man in the 1970's.
It's been estimated that Burian illustrated over 500 books, stories and articles during his career. The pundits put the grand total of his drawings and paintings in the 15,000 range. When you consider that less than 500 of these are the paleontological recreations for which he is so well known, you realize that there is a rich collection of fantastic illustration sitting on the shelves of many a Czechoslovakian library.
Burian died in 1981, actively working up until his death. I don't know the location of the many thousands of his originals, but I hope that some enterprising Czech will make the brilliant step of crafting a collection of his work for international sale. I know I'd buy one (or ten).
Information supplied by: http://www.bpib.com/illustrat/burian.htm