Abstract Gerhard Heilmann’s ‘Origin of Birds’ from 1926 is a remarkable book. Written by an illustrator-cum-amateur-biologist, it gained worldwide authority almost immediately upon publication. It is demonstrated that Heilmann’s skills as an artist, and his ability to use illustration to support his argument, were crucial in gaining this status. Furthermore, turning away from the dramatic confrontational model of palaeontological illustration helped Heilmann’s cause and made his monograph the leading word on the subject for well over forty years.

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