‘A Journey to Prehistory’ through the works of late, great Czech painter Zdeněk Burian

The Děčín Regional Museum has launched a major exhibition entitled ‘A Journey to Prehistory or In the Footsteps of Zdeněk Burian’, in honour of the famous Czech illustrator who brought the Stone Age to life for generations of children worldwide.

Zdeněk Burian, who died 40 years ago, was among the greatest and certainly most prolific paleao-artists of all time – the ongoing exhibition in northern Bohemia includes more than 150 of his works spanning six decades, alongside scores of skeletal remains and fossils.

Photo: Daniela Pilařová,  Czech Radio

This past Saturday, the Děčín Regional Museum held a children’s day, which began with a hunt for toy dinosaurs, hidden throughout its courtyard. Later, they dug up replicas of Tyrannosaurus Rex fossils, petrified trilobites and so on in a sandpit – an introduction to the joys of palaeontology.

It was a fun and fitting start to the exhibition, which also traces the history of Earth, long before Homo sapiens – modern humans – came to inhabit the planet, curator Tomáš Mika told Czech Radio.

“The exhibition is chronological – from the earliest times to almost the present day, that is, to the Quaternary. There are woolly rhinoceros horns, as well as a mammoth tusk, which was found during the expansion of the river shipyard in Křešice.

“Probably the most interesting objects are from near Děčín, in Bechlejovice, were fossils were found in the 19th century – and where the leading palaeontologist Zdeněk Vlastimil Špinar discovered Tertiary frogs.”

Photo: Daniela Pilařová,  Czech Radio

The exhibition, though, is as noted mainly a tribute to Zdeněk Burian, the first Czech paleao-artist, who passed away in July 1981 in his mid-seventies. He was born in the Moravian town of Kopřivnice, an area known for its prehistoric settlements, and finds uncovered there may have inspired his career.

Photo: Daniela Pilařová,  Czech Radio

Whatever the case, Burian worked with palaeontologist Zdeněk Vlastimil Špinar for thirty years, up until the latter man’s death in 1968, and then for another two decades with Špinar’s successor as leading palaeontologist, Josef Augusta.

Retired Charles University professor Oldřich Fejfar – himself one of Augusta’s former students – noted in an earlier interview that the illustrations that born of such collaboration are used to this day as teaching tools – and widely imitated.

“Burian is known abroad and he also has many imitators abroad. I have seen paintings, in Beijing for example. At first glance I thought, This must be Burian! But it was not. It was only an exact [copy].

“Many artists in America, South America and also in Germany have told me that Burian is the top – we cannot be better than him.”

That said, the Děčín Regional Museum also features works of some of a new generation of paleao-artists whom Zdeněk Burian inspired.

Photo: Daniela Pilařová,  Czech Radio
Authors: Brian Kenety , Daniela Pilařová
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