PALEOART: VISIONS OF THE PREHISTORIC PAST
By Zoë Lescaze with a preface by Walton Ford (TASCHEN, 2017)
“A gorgeous volume… As much as Lescaze’s Paleoart is a book about scientific discovery and artistic invention, it is also a history of artists grappling with the reality of extinction, and may be more relevant now than ever.”
—Rachel Poser, The New York Times Book Review
“Paleoart, a new book by Zoë Lescaze, is one of the most extraordinary and beautiful volumes on the topic yet conceived, and suggests that these images of prehistory were as much about the present as the past.”
—Caspar Henderson, The Economist
“Epic in size and scope, it's a passport to a past that no one ever witnessed.”
—Erin, Blakemore, The Washington Post
“Flipping through Paleoart feels, in the best way, like taking a psychoactive substance and becoming a kid again.”
—Dan Piepenbring, The Paris Review
The Art of Raising the Dead
A lecture and book signing hosted by the New York Paleontological Society.
Sunday, March 17, 2019 // 2 p.m.
Linder Theater, American Museum of Natural History (first floor, near the 77th St. entrance)
Free with museum admission (suggested donation).
Images of dinosaurs are everywhere, but paleoart—the practice of depicting prehistoric animals as they looked in life—is surprisingly new. It was 1830 when an English scientist named Henry De la Beche painted the first picture of extinct reptiles based on fossil evidence: a chaotic, deliciously macabre scene of several dozen animals battling it out under water.
From there, artists and scientists working across the United Kingdom, Europe, and the United States created a unique new genre of natural history illustration, one that blended scientific fact and unbridled fantasy. Beginning with the same fractured evidence, they created wildly different visions of the prehistoric past in a diverse range of styles and media, including gothic engravings, exuberant oil paintings, bronze sculptures, frescoes, and mosaics the size of subway cars. While these artists are the reason we can imagine the prehistoric world, their names are obscure and the genre itself is oddly invisible.
Writer Zoë Lescaze has compiled the most complete history of this dazzling tradition to date. In Paleoart: Visions of the Prehistoric Past (Taschen, 2017) she takes an art historical approach to a rich array of works, telling the story of how paleoart developed over its first 150 years. While the images in the book are no longer scientifically accurate, they remain fascinating artifacts that can teach us about the particular contexts in which they were created, our cultural ideals and neuroses, as well as our changing concepts of creation and destruction. From Victorian England to Soviet Russia, images of prehistoric animals often reveal more about their human creators than they do about the distant past. They are roads to understanding our relationship to the past and our place within the present. Some works of paleoart are broad, well-paved boulevards, others winding back alleys, but, Lescaze argues, they all lead to unexpected corners of the human psyche.