Canadian Robert Bateman began his lifelong dedication to nature when he was very young, sketching in the ravines behind his Toronto home. Happily his interest was to become married with an uncanny skill as an artist.

This beautifully printed (in Italy) book shows the full range of his matured skill as a wildlife artist. It also offers more insights into his lifelong work to promote a greater understanding of nature.Bateman paints the kind of work that makes you immediately a part of it. One painting, "Rhino at Ngoro Ngoro," shows a rhinoceros climbing a yellowed hill. Viewing it, you can feel the sun on your back and smell the hot grass of the veldt. A winter painting of a dozing lynx, with its almost monochromatic treatment of snowy branches, icicles and a dark den, lays the chill of January on your bones.

That skill and dedication have made him one of the most prominent wildlife artists in the world, widely honored and reproduced. His paintings have benefited a wide range of conservation organizations, but most particularly the World Wildlife Fund, which gave him its Medal of Honor.

A 1985 painting of a panda and its accompanying print sales raised roughly $400,000 for the fund, and since then he has contributed other royalties, including those from a current project, "Midnight, Black Wolf," for which dealers across North America have ordered 25,000 prints. Bateman and his American print publisher, Mill Pond Press, have raised well over $1 million for WWF projects.

Bateman was a teacher of geography and art before he decided to become a full-time artist. He spent part of his early painting career experimenting with various styles. He says now he was greatly influenced by a major exhibit of Andrew Wyeth works he saw in 1963 just before he left for a two-year teaching job in Nigeria. Wyeth's works bowled him over and gave him the direction he needed. Indeed, his work bears some comparison to Wyeth's.

Author Rick Archbold, who has worked with Bateman on several of his recent projects, notes that despite his commercial success, "or perhaps in part because of it, Bateman isn't taken seriously by the art establishment, a fact that still rankles." He is often dismissed as an illustrator, but his response is that some of the greatest art of all time, including the "Last Supper" by Leonardo da Vinci, is illustration.

The charge that he doesn't produce "fine art" is one that few people who buy this book will have patience with. Of the many striking paintings, my personal favorite is "Midnight, Black Wolf," a brooding, finely drawn work that draws on almost primal emotions. In it, your eye is first drawn to a silent, wintry scene of tree trunks bisecting the snow, when suddenly you become aware of the ominous presence of a lone black wolf looming like a ghost amidst the trees. The dark wolf appears against an almost black background as it pauses in its journey, and the impact is startling. Bateman said he wanted to create a scene of "seriousness and respect - not threat."

Other paintings show a meticulous attention to the detail of a grassy field, the arrangement of hairs on a grizzly, or the wrinkles on an ancient elephant. Often the animals are shown off center, either entering or leaving the painting, as if they are only a part of the scene and not its dominant force.

In author Archbold's words: "However Bateman's paintings will be regarded a century hence, they are very much expressions of the late 20th century and its troubled relationship with the natural world."

It's Bateman's mission to help us see ourselves as a part of the natural world so that we will in turn protect it. He used to make his geography students identify the 20 most common birds, trees and herbaceous plants in the place where they lived. You can't respect something you can't even name, he would argue. His artwork is a powerful extension of that philosophy.

Two previous books have dealt with Bateman's work: "The Art of Robert Bateman," published in 1981 and which has been a continuing bestseller since then, and "The World of Robert Bateman," published in 1985.