Monday, May 3, 2010

Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins at the Morven


Thursday, Marianne and I went to the Morven Museum in Princeton for a showing of eight paintings by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins.  The Morven is a lovely place, the home of Richard Stockton, who was the only signer of the Declaration of Independence to be captured and imprisoned by the British.  In the 20th century it served as the home for five governors, until it was deemed insufficiently grandiose for a New Jersey governor.  Now it's one of those small jewels that a culture slowly acquires, preserved as a sign of respect for our history and run by as pleasant a batch of people as you could hope to meet.

It was the Hawkins oils we were there to see, though.  And we were fortunate enough to go in the company of dinosaur reconstruction artists Robert Walters and Tess Kissinger, of the Walters & Kissinger Studio.

Hawkins was in on the ground floor of dinosaur reconstruction art.  He made life-sized sculptures of dinosaurs for the Crystal Palace.  Then he came to Princeton, where dinosaur fossils were being displayed in large trays and created a metal armature for the bones of Hadrosaurus foulkii, so they could be displayed in the kind of life mount that is standard today. 

In 1875 Princeton University commissioned BWH to create a series of paintings of the geological eras of the Earth.  They included the first significant series of dinosaur art ever painted.

And here I must end on a cliff-hanger, for I have obligations to meet today that cannot be put off.  More tomorrow about these same paintings, involving comments on preservation, restoration, the moral evolution of dinosaurs, and the role of the Dumpster in art history.

Above:  Detail from Cretaceous Life of New Jersey, showing a dryptosaur attacking a hadrosaur.  I could talk for hours about this painting.



David Stone said...

It's interesting how as you move further into the 20th century, graphic depictions of dinosaurs start to look more and more... edgy. Beady eyes, bigger spikes, bulging muscles, teeth bared, etc.

The guys in that picture look milquetoast even when they're going for the throat. It's like comparing the Batman from the 1940s with the 1990s versions.

genovefa said...

Indeed it has an outdated charm...with soft subdued colours. There does not seem to be violence and it does not look like a fight for survival.The later depictions of this age whether graphic and cinematographic are far more impressive and cruel....these two seem to be doing the tango...
I believe our perception has been distorted by the more recent representations we have of dinosaurs. This would make a wonderful book cover.
I'd love to hear what you have to say about this painting.

Matthew Brandi said...

Funnily enough, it frightened me.

Probably because they look so ... human.