Have you ever seen our final publish about these playing cards? Weblog statistics inform me you largely haven’t, so be sure that to learn it right here. Immediately, I wish to take you once more to the great, whimsical, barely puzzling, often grotesque prehistoric world of the enigmatic F. John, who exists solely as a signature on sixty collectable playing cards from the Reichardt cocoa firm.
Fast recap: within the early 1900s, Reichardt launched two sequence of thirty collectable playing cards with illustrations of prehistoric animals. All data on the illustrator, F. John, has been misplaced to time (although sure sources I couldn’t confirm appear to recommend their first identify might need been Francis), however from their work we are able to glean fairly a bit. Their work is sort of by-product but additionally enjoyable and eccentric, and sometimes downright ridiculous. I referred to as John “the primary nice hack palaeoartist” and that may be a theme that can proceed as John leaves scientific reconstruction more and more far behind. Final time we checked out some highlights from the primary Reichardt sequence, from roughly 1902. The second batch got here out just a few years later, presumably 1906, with F. John returning on positive kind.
As soon as once more, the pictures come from copyrightexpired.com.
Earlier than we dive in correct, I wish to present you ways F. John’s type has developed between sequence 1 and a couple of. Each sequence characteristic a Megaloceros and a mammoth, so right here is all of them facet by facet, with the 1902 ones left and the 1906 variations on the appropriate. As you possibly can see, their type has probably not gotten extra refined or severe; if something, the illustrations in sequence 2 are much more cartoonish and broad, the landscaping much less delicate, the animals extra expressive and even a bit extra anthropomophized. In some particulars, they’ve improved: the ears, toes and tusks on the mammoth and the muscle groups on the Megaloceros look extra convincing (to me, not a mammal skilled), and the addition of a doe to the Megaloceros is a pleasant contact. All in all, I’d say John obtained extra John-like.
Card one within the sequence is a dodo this time, the poster little one of lately extinct animals. I wouldn’t name them “prehistoric” precisely, however I get why they’re right here. It’s a fairly regular dodo reconstruction, the birds look way more spherical and ungainly than they might have been in actual life, they had been actually simply large flightless pigeons. The one on the appropriate is most positively Up To No Good, you wanna regulate that one.
Right here we now have a agency favorite of mine, one which even made it into Lescaze (who is sort of dismissive of John in any other case). It’s fairly recognizable as a phytosaur. That cranium is big, shrink-wrapped to excessive heaven in fact, however, to John’s credit score, not really very crocodile-like (though the textual content flat-out calls it a crocodile). I really like its gloomy visage and the wriggling fish, and John as soon as extra brings out a pleasant orange sky for this one. The factor that puzzles me most is why this clearly semi-aquatic animal is up on a excessive rock, nowhere close to the water. How’d it get that fish? Did Belodon catch it, then climb a rock with it wriggling in its maw all the way in which up?
This one despatched me down a little bit of a rabbit gap. It depicts Leguatia gigantea, supposedly a two meters tall big flightless rail from the island of Mauritius. It’s not a lot a prehistoric or in any other case extinct animal however somewhat some kind of folkloric, historic cryptid, apparently first seen by a seventeenth-century tale-teller referred to as Leguat who himself might not have existed. It was scientifically described primarily based on rumour. Not nice scientific follow, that. The outline was primarily based totally on an engraving that this Leguat character introduced house from Mauritius (additionally the historic house of the dodo). The John model may be very a lot primarily based on this engraving, however it seems altogether extra naturalistic and convincing. So far as cryptids go, an enormous island rail isn’t too far on the market. I’m pretty assured no such chook ever existed, however within the arms of F. John, you can in all probability consider it did. One in every of their nicer illustrations.
Talking of cryptids: right here’s our Loch Ness plesiosaur. In comparison with the Riou-based multi-tongued monster within the earlier set, this one is much extra low-key and updated. The creature it’s grabbing, which seems far too large for it to eat, seems extra like a beaked fish than the ichthyosaur John in all probability supposed for example. These are clearly fish fins, not the flippers of an aquatic tetrapod. I like that the German phrase for plesiosaur is outwardly “Schwanenechse” – swan lizard.
The Tylosaurus is pure Knight. John is fairly good with waves and water, although not fairly in Knight’s league. That large wave offers this one some good movement and dynamic high quality. Being a straight Knight clone, the mosasaur seems fairly regular by John requirements, however what’s it consuming? Is that the aquatic Hadrosaurus once more? A few of the non-featured animals in these illustrations may be notably fanciful.
Anyway. This concludes the traditional portion of this assessment; any longer every little thing goes to be wall-to-wall bizarro land.
There’s not an entire bunch of dinosaurs on this second sequence (I depend two nonavian dinosaur illustrations) however wow, they as soon as once more positive are one thing. So right here we now have Torosaurus, with Monoclonius within the background. Had been these primarily based on one thing pre-existing? As a result of this seems like no ceratopsid I’ve ever seen. It’s like a caricature artist drew them after having had them described to them, which is absolutely the story with F. John’s dinosaurs. The tick-like bottom-heavy physique shapes remind me of nothing a lot because the creatures Anakin and Padmé had been prancing round with in Star Wars: Assault of the Clowns, with a droopy tail added for good measure. We’ve obtained that armoured again on ceratopsids that may have began with Knight’s Agathaumas, that’s one John had positively seen. The face is all beak, with a bleary little eye searching from underneath that swooping frill, and the nostril horn is lacking altogether. Once more, John’s dinosaurs look little or no just like the dinosaurs we’re acquainted with, and neither do they actually appear to be useful animals. How would you think about a creature like this may even transfer? On the Monoclonius, is that its tongue protruding, chameleon type?
Right here’s one thing fascinating: Helicoprion! I’m not acquainted with any earlier Helicoprion reconstructions than this, although they should have existed. The large query with Helicoprion was at all times what was up with that freaky spiral of enamel, which has result in some extraordinarily outlandish reconstructions. Apparently a few of John’s contemporaries thought the whorl hooked up to the snout, even. That’s not what John has carried out. John’s interpretation has been to only exchange the decrease jaw with the spiral altogether. Actually, after I confirmed this to my pertner her inital response was that it was an enormous fish consuming an ammonite. The spiral appears fully uncovered and unconnected to any flesh, it’s simply pure white enamel. That, and the truth that the animal has barely any snout to talk of makes it one other grotesque creature within the F. John bestiary, though its eye seems fairly pleasant. It’s fascinating how the physique seems extra like a nurse shark or zebra shark than the lamniform physique it’s often given in trendy occasions. I don’t know if any is especially possible; Helicoprion is extra intently associated to chimaeras than sharks.
One other wondrous creature from the F. John nightmare menagerie is Megaladapis; a species of big lemur from Madagascar (not large, concerning the measurement of a capybara). Megaladapis was spherical and squat, to the purpose the place it was generally generally known as the koala lemur. I’ve seen trendy interpretations of it the place it seems for all of the world like Alf, so this isn’t the creepiest Megaladapis has ever seemed. John has, as soon as extra, gone in their very own inscrutable path by making it not spherical however intensely humanoid, however with a malevolent lemur face. It appears to have plucked a chook out of mid-air and appears like it might wish to play with it a bit earlier than consuming it.
F. John is true to kind once more with Dinichthys. Right here’s the weirdest and freakiest among the many traditional Dunk or Dinichthys depictions I’ve ever seen, and that’s saying one thing! Have a look at that chin! Mixed with jaws that don’t appear to attach, it has a stumpy, pug-like mug. Depicting sea monsters from above the waves is such a traditional palaeoart trope. This one doesn’t even try to appear to be it’s really swimming, it’s simply hovering above the floor, solely often touching the waves. A creature from ones nightmares to make sure, however John can do freakier nonetheless…
A propos of nothing, in my head (and in most palaeoart, and on Google) Dinichthys and Dunkleosteus have at all times been roughly intercangeable, however they’re in actual fact not all that intently associated and would in all probability have seemed fairly totally different! Immediately I discovered!
Gah! What within the recent universe is that this? Two weird faceless monsters are, ahem, “dealing with” off. Their toes are as nightmarish as their heads. Neither of them appears to have eyes, although the central spike on the one on the left really seems a bit like a cyclopean eye if you happen to squint. Every little thing previous turns into new once more, this seems like some abomination ChatGPT might have give you. So what are we ?
Elginia and Hyperodapedon are two fossil critters from Scotland, the primary a Permian pareiosaur like Scutosaurus, the second a Triassic rhyncosaur. They’re among the many “Elgin reptiles”, a widely known group of fossils from that space. Really, Elginia‘s cranium actually did sort of appear to be that, though it did have precise eyes and such. A gnarly, spiky morningstar of a cranium, with large horns to prime it off, fairly cool really. The rhyncosaur in contrast seems completely nothing like the actual factor, though at this level palaeoartists like Joseph Smit had a fairly good deal with on the way it was alleged to look. It did kind of have that broad cranium base, however not the lengthy muzzle John has given it. As soon as extra, no thought if John primarily based themselves on something pre-existing. Final time, some folks have instructed me it says it proper on the playing cards. Sue me, I can’t learn these low-res cursives, man.
Even John’s mammals handle to be fairly on the market. That is Machairodus, a genus of sabre-toothed cat that may be a full wastebasket and has fallen into disuse, with Smilodon now the go-to sabretooth in popular culture. Nonetheless, it’s only a cat, and John manages to even make that look grotesque. These sabre enamel have been blown fully out of proportion, and to accommodate them John has given it a large gape that appears extra like a thylacine. It does look satisfyingly muscular.
After this nightmare menagerie, John’s pterosaurs look very pleasant.
One other two-for one, and the creatures are as soon as once more fully fanciful and weird. The black one on the left that appears like a heavy steel mascot is Geikia, a Permian dicynodont and one other one of many “Elgin Reptiles” from Scotland. The armoured one on the appropriate is Sclerosaurus, a Triassic parareptile from Germany. You must hand it to F. John, they’re not purely going for essentially the most well-known prehistoric animals, though at this level the Bone Wars had been nonetheless in full swing and which prehistoric animals had been to turn into superstars was nonetheless very a lot up within the air. Actually, Geikia is so obscure and infrequently illustrated that that is nonetheless one of many reconstructions you discover on its Wikipedia web page.
The final card within the sequence is a dinosaur once more, Diplodocus this time. I feel it’s primarily based on a pencil sketch by Charles Knight. Subsequently, it holds up fairly a bit higher than the bendy-knee Brontosaurus within the earlier set (take a look at the remark part there for some perception on what’s up with these sprawling sauropods). This one really seems like it will possibly stroll! John has some loving consideration to element right here within the rendering of the pores and skin, and the entire thing does convey very effectively a way of movement that I discover uncommon of their work, however they may do it! It’s much more cartoony than the Knight sketch, once more, and it jogs my memory numerous the sauropods in The Land Earlier than Time.
It seems like I’ve used the phrases “weird”, “grotesque”, “freaky” and “abomination” lots this time round. So you possibly can think about I’ve turn into a little bit of an F. John fan in the middle of this assessment. On the face of it, they appear like a kind of pretty regular by-product hack palaeoartists that we see so a lot of on these pages, however the extra you look, the stranger and extra distinctive all of those illustrations turn into. There’s numerous creativeness to the way in which F, perhaps Francis, John reconstructs deep time: as a bizarro world stuffed with wackadoo creatures the likes of which the world has by no means seen once more. Their relationship to science is the traditional “take a look at the fossil or reference as soon as, then draw no matter you’re feeling like”. This isn’t what technical palaeoart is all about, no, however it’s arduous to think about an artist who goes this tough and this boldly within the path of palaeo mayhem. Perhaps I might be satisfied to declare F. John a “unhealthy” paleoartist, however at the moment wherein unhealthy palaeoart is usually unhealthy as a result of it’s hopelessly unimaginative, F. John nonetheless kinda seems like a breath of recent air.
Anyway, the Reichardt Cocoa Firm was not carried out with the Tiere der Urwelt playing cards. Within the decade that adopted, they launched one other two sequence of playing cards, and this time, the artist they attracted was one among a very totally different caliber. Be part of us subsequent time as we dive into the world of Heinrich Tougher!