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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Diplodocus in Art

Heinrich Harder, Diplodocus (1916). Although the idea of sauropods is quite changed from then, the work of Harder is still a masterpiece of paleo-art.

Diplodocus is a sauropod dinosaur which lived in what is now western North America at the end of the Jurassic period. Alongside with Tyrannosaurus, Diplodocus is one of the most famous and much-depicted dinosaurs.
His role in popular culture is partly related to the industrialist Andrew Carnegie, who donated many mounted skeletal casts to potentates around the world at the beginning of the twentieth century. Thanks to him, people worldwide familiarized with Diplodocus.
Carnegie's project drew much public attention in Europe and the German satirical weekly Kladderadatsch (or 'Crash') devoted a poem to the dinosaur:

[...] Auch ein viel älterer Herr noch muß
Den Wanderburschen spielen
Er ist genannt Diplodocus‚ und zählt zu den Fossilen
Herr Carnegie verpackt ihn froh
In riesengroße Archen
Und schickt als Geschenk ihn so
An mehrere Monarchen [...]
The translation is:
[...] But even a much older gent
Sees itself forced to wander
Goes by the name Diplodocus
And belongs among the fossils
Mr. Carnegie packs him joyfully
In giant arcs
And sends him as gift this way
To multiple monarchs.

Successively, the artist Winsor McCay's based his animated character 'Gertie' on sauropod dinosaurs (i.e. Apatosaurus and Diplodocus). Although not the first animated film, 'Gertie the Dinosaur' was animated character with an appealing and well-defined personality. The first presentation of the film was at the Palace Theater in Chicago on February 8, 1914. The performance consisted of McCay interacting with Gertie, following the tradition of vaudeville theatrical shows.
The animator-actor would stand on stage in front of the projection screen, dressed in a tuxedo and wielding a whip. He would call Gertie and instructed her to perform various tricks, similar to a circus act.
He would appear to toss an apple to her — McCay palmed the apple while Gertie caught an animated copy of it. For the finale, McCay disappeared behind the screen just as a cartoon version of him climbed onto Gertie's head and rode off.

Winsor McCay picked up by Gertie!

Gertie's poster. 'She's a scream!'

Here is the movie of Gertie the Dinosaur. The author - Winsor Mc Cay - also created the newspaper comic strip Little Nemo in Slumberland.

Gertie was named #6 of the '50 Greatest Cartoons' of all time in a 1994 survey of animators and cartoon historians.
Sauropod dinosaurs appear also in Centennial, a novel by James Michener that traces the history of the plains of northeast Colorado from prehistory until the early 1970s. In most recent times, the Dutch electronic music trio Noisia composed a song named 'Diplodocus'. Check it out!

'Diplodocus' by Noisia.

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