Written by 5:00 pm Art Is Essential

Art Is Essential March 2021

Writers on the art that matters to them. #ArtIsEssential

The Prehistoric Paintings of Charles R. Knight

Rachel Friedman

It takes a special kind of artist to paint creatures which died hundreds, if not thousands, of years before he or she was born. Not only did Charles Robert Knight accomplish this, but he also happened to be legally blind. He enjoyed both drawing animals and going to the American Museum of Natural History, so it was natural that these two interests merged. He was eventually commissioned to make realistic paintings of dinosaurs and extinct mammals, which he did with resounding success.

I work part-time at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. We are fortunate enough to own about twelve copies of his wonderful paintings. As an artist, I always found his paintings to be particularly inspiring. He somehow managed to make long-dead animals look incredibly realistic, partially because he painted them according to the knowledge that zoologists and paleontologists possessed during his lifetime. We now know that many of his paintings are inaccurate, but that does not diminish their realistic beauty.

The museum is currently closed due to Covid-19. I really miss being able to see the Charles R. Knight Gallery during my lunch break. It was an opportunity to see dodo birds and brontosauri as they would have looked in their natural environment. I was torn between enjoying the quiet of this small art gallery and feeling sad that so few of our staff members and visitors seemed to have discovered this treasure. I told my coworkers and friends at the museum what they were missing, and I hope that they seized the opportunity to enjoy the paintings before Covid-19 struck. Luckily for me, Charles R. Knight’s granddaughter has posted images of his pictures on her website, so at least I can still look at some of my favorites.


Rachel Friedman works part-time at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. She lives in southern California with her family.


Charles R. Knight (1874-1953) was an American painter who was best known for his depictions of dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals. His work is displayed in the Carnegie Museum, Smithsonian Institute, and the Peabody Museum of Natural History.

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