doug henderson


Leptoceratops and Stegosaurus by Doug Henderson.

“In a lot of palaeoart, the animals will practically be jumping down our throats, as if they’re putting on a show for us (it’s almost possible to smell the popcorn). Instead, Henderson offers us furtive glimpses through the thick underbrush of a world that is as lush and filled with life as it is hostile and unwelcoming. Dinosaurs, so often depicted as the lords of the Earth, are typically hopelessly dwarfed by their surroundings. There’s something so very real about it all.” Keep reading Marc Vincent’s post on Love in the Time of Chasmosaurs.

“This piece is a spectacular summary of the age (Carboniferous) as one dominated by enormous, bizarre-looking plants, with Sigillaria looming imposingly from behind a tangled veil of tree ferns. The dramatically leaping animal in the foreground is Hylonomus, the earliest known definitive reptile. While I realise I gush about Henderson non-stop, this truly is one of his masterpieces; I only wish I had an enormous print of it to hang on my wall.”

Mark Vincent at Love in the Time of Chasmosaurs

Helveticosaurus and Ticinosuchus, Doug Henderson

Waves and wind beat salt and stone—ingredients for mountains—masses of rock that will be thrust high enough to collect glaciers on their peaks. But now, there are no alpine summits. Instead, stony islands lie low, battered by waves from the Tethys, their barren surfaces crawling with reptiles. Helveticosaurs, blunt-faced, nasty-fanged, drag their hulks across the raw rocks and snort salt from their noses. When their beds are driven skyward by colliding continents, the only water those stones will know will be ice.

“Moving on up to the Triassic, and (Doug) Henderson provides us with one of the more memorable restorations of Postosuchus to feature in a popular book. Here, the sinister archosaurian macropredator adopts a nonchalant air as it tosses a young Desmatosuchus to the skies, perhaps with the aim of breaking off a few of those unpalatable spines. Yet another example of Henderson’s superb and original compositions - a brilliant imagination to match his artistic flair. Gush gush gush. I hear his feet really smell*, though, which is important to take into consideration. Just remember that.”

Mark Vincent at Love in the Time of Chasmosaurs

Ordovician Sea Floor, Doug Henderson, 2004, for the Florida Museum of Natural History

The cephalopods drift over the garden as jets do in a city sky: confident, deliberate, direct. Below them, crinoids and corals sway with the ocean currents; the water is active near the continental shelf, with upwellings and internal waves. Starfish crawl between coral and weeds, and fish, jawless torpedoes of bone and scale, linger near the lilies. Unlike the cephalopods—because of the cephalopods—the fish prefer to be inconspicuous. 

Days ago, the ocean roiled. Mud and boulders collapsed from the shelf. The silt settled to reveal half the garden crushed or buried, the rubble a grave marker. Mammoth nautiloid Endoceras rises over those rocks. It will reap from what the mudslide spared, gliding over the garden like an ogre-cum-dirigible, arms lashing down to capture fish and gastropods, shoveling them into pincer jaws with a violence that seems almost blasé. But for now, it hovers, siphon pulsing, pinhole eye staring, tentacles clutched tightly—death waiting above a cemetery.

Someday, the sea will churn again, sweeping everything in a storm. The garden will be decimated, leaving a few broken survivors. Even Endoceras is caught, pulled from the seabed and deposited with other giant nautiloids on the shore. There they will lay, strewn and stranded, like logs of driftwood abandoned by the sea.

Douglas Henderson:

“Trapped in a transient pool are fragments of shore plants and various conifer limbs, leaves and a cone, together with the small fish Dipteronotus, a small crayfish, a horseshoe crab and numerous small jellyfish.”

Typothorax, Doug Henderson, for the Petrified Forest Museum

Smoldering under the wildfire’s last flames, the forest had been transformed from verdant green to soot and ash. Older trees stood, licked black by fire, branches scourged away, just dead columns of charcoal. Others had fallen, embers still crackling on their undersides. Few of the saplings remained—brittle, sad things, skeletons of trees that might have been. The earth had been baked gray; the sky choked with the same.

The ground was still hot. Typothorax moved through the smoking wasteland quickly so that its feet wouldn’t burn. Occasionally it rooted in the cinders and dust with its hog’s nose, hoping to find something succulent, but found nothing and sneezed ash. Finally it came upon the creek, winding cool and clear, the sand in its thin bed still yellow, unscorched, unsinged, and the reptile dipped its snout in the trickle and drank deep, its feet dancing to prevent them from blistering.

Fissure Islands and Sphenosuchid, Triassic England, Doug Henderson, 2003

Once, Wales sat at the latitude of the Sahara, but instead of a desert, those coordinates were flooded by an ichthyosaur-laden sea. Even in the Triassic, Britain was islands. Gracile crocodiles scampered along its sea-sprayed rocks and danced inside early conifer forests. They were lithe things made of mostly legs—reptiles that had become greyhounds, sphenosuchian-salukis who tiptoed on their hindquarters, among the first to earn the title biped.