It's been a while since I posted a 'Picture of the Day' on ShukerNature, so here is a particularly intriguing picture that has attracted a lot of interest among friends and readers ever since I first brought it to their attention in a Facebook post on 20 June 2017.
A small ink-and-wash drawing, presently housed in the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, it was apparently completed on 4 December 1873 by English painter/sculptor Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins (1807-1894). He is of course most famous for his gigantic, scientifically groundbreaking sculptures of dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures that he created during the early 1850s to accompany the erection of the spectacular Crystal Palace in what became Crystal Palace Park, following this huge glass edifice's removal from its previous, original site in London's Hyde Park, where it had stood during the Great Exhibition of 1851.
For full details of these stupendous exhibits, which, unlike the palace itself, still survive today, please click here, here, and here, to read my comprehensive three-part ShukerNature article documenting their history and also that of their subsequent, ill-fated American counterparts, again created by Hawkins.
(Incidentally, the earlier date of 4 December 1868 also given by Hawkins for the drawing under consideration here, as written by him beneath its bottom edge alongside 4 December 1873, suggests that it may have begun as a design for a sculpture to be created as part of that never-completed American collection, but following the latter's tragic end was transformed by him into this drawing and seemingly completed in December 1873, as noted earlier.)
In addition to those monumental mega-sculptures, Hawkins also produced a sizeable body of natural history paintings and drawings, some of which again depicted prehistoric species, whereas others portrayed modern-day animals. Most of these were serious studies, but now and again he'd produce a rather more tongue-in-cheek illustration, of which 'St George and the Pterodactyl' is a particular case in point.
For instead of the titular saint battling the traditional reptilian dragon of mythology, in this very distinctive drawing Hawkins provided him with an erstwhile reptilian foe from antiquity. Moreover, it is one with which Hawkins was particularly familiar, given that he had created two pairs in life-sized sculptured form for the Crystal Palace Park, under the supervision of no less a palaeontological authority than Prof. Sir Richard Owen.
Namely, a pterodactyl – but no ordinary one, given its great size; as can be seen, it is virtually as big as St George's horse! As for its precise taxonomic identity: its toothy jaws have inspired attempts to categorise this depicted pterosaur as a species belonging to the genus Ornithocheirus, but I have not seen any unequivocal acceptance of this classification.
Speaking of St George's horse, this poor beast has problems of its own – keeping its hooves free from the flailing, grasping tentacles of a not-inconsiderable octopus lurking at the water's edge. As for the drawing's setting – this is believed to be Fingal's Cave, a large sea cavern on the uninhabited island of Staffa, in Scotland's Inner Hebrides group, as evidenced by the readily-visible columns of basalt of which Fingal's Cave is wholly composed.
For more details concerning this unusual painting by Hawkins, I recommend clicking here to access a fascinating article by historian Lydia Pyne, which examines its possible inspirations and symbolic interpretations.
Finally, as further evidence of Hawkins's occasional flights of artistic fantasy, here is another example. Signed by him with his initials, and dated December 1864, it consists of a very (melo)dramatic drawing (pen and black ink and wash) that depicts a group of equestrian prehistoric men doing battle with a veritable phalanx of pterosaurs! Truly a flight of fancy in every sense! (Incidentally, if anyone has additional details concerning this extraordinary drawing, or a better reproduction of it, I'd very much like to receive them – many thanks in advance.)