Rudolph Franz Zallinger
Search the Collections
Rudolph Franz Zallinger

Rudolph Franz Zallinger (b. 1919, d. 1995) was born in Irkutsk, Siberia, on November 12, 1919. His father Franz, an Austrian soldier, had been captured by the Russians during World War I. He had sufficient freedom to meet and marry Maria Koncheravich, the daughter of a Polish civil engineer involved in work on the Trans-Siberian Railway. When their firstborn was 9 months old, the Zallingers began a harrowing emigration eastward and eventually settled in Seattle, where their son grew up.

As a child Zallinger absorbed art early — from his father (an artist), in school, and from private teachers. When he was 17, John Butler, a visiting artist from Virginia, urged him to enroll at Yale. Zallinger entered Yale University’s School of Fine Arts that year and was given merit scholarships every semester after his first. He received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting in 1942, and a Master of Fine Arts in Painting in 1971.

Early in 1942 Zallinger took on a job illustrating marine algae for oceanographer Albert E. Parr, then Director of the Yale Peabody Museum. According to Carl Dunbar, Parr recognized “uncommon talent” in the young artist and began talking with him “about the possibility of painting a series of pictures of dinosaurs to cover the east wall” of the Great Hall, which distressed Parr by its lack of color. Dunbar succeeded Parr as Director in 1942, and it was Dunbar’s leadership that guided both of the Museum’s great murals, The Age of Reptiles and The Age of Mammals, to completion.

In April 1942, before beginning on the actual mural, Zallinger undertook 6 months of studies with Yale and Harvard scientists, and then 18 months of preliminary art work. Zallinger painted The Age of Reptiles mural from 1943 to 1947. For this magnificent achievement he received a Pulitzer Award for Painting in 1949.

In 1950 Zallinger went back to Seattle to work as a freelance artist. In 1952 he received a call from Life Magazine about the possibility of using the dinosaur mural for its series The World We Live In, and about new illustrations for the same series, including one on the Age of Mammals. Accepting this commission, Zallinger returned to Yale in 1953 as a Fellow in Geology to begin studies for this work. The Age of Mammals was published in Life in October 1953, but not until the 1960s did funds become available for Zallinger to turn this painting into what is now The Age of Mammals mural on the south wall of the Yale Peabody Museum’s Hall of Mammalian Evolution.

During the 1950sand 1960s, Zallinger carried out many other assignments, particularly for Life articles. The subjects he painted included the tropical rain forest of Surinam, the Minoans of ancient Crete, and aspects of the Russian Revolution. He also illustrated the book Dinosaurs for Golden Press in 1960.

Among his many honors were honorable mention for the Prix-de-Rome in 1941, Yale’s Addison Emery Verrill Medal in 1980 for “outstanding contributions to the field of natural history,” and an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from the University of New Haven. His paintings are in the permanent collections of the Seattle Art Museum and Yale University, and in many private collections.

In addition to teaching at the Yale School of Fine Arts from 1942 to 1950 and his position at the Yale Peabody Museum as “artist-in- residence” after 1952, Zallinger was on the full-time faculty of the Hartford Art School of the University of Hartford after 1961. He also taught courses at the Paier School of Art in Hamden, Connecticut.

Rudolph Zallinger married the painter Jean Day Zallinger while both were art students, and they had 3 children. Rudolph Zallinger died on August 1, 1995.