Chesley Bonestell

1888 - 1986

American artist

Chesley Bonestell's photo-realistic space art presented space exploration not as some far-off dream, but as a real and possible undertaking. It can be argued that his work was instrumental in encouraging discussion and debate about the feasibility of space travel, and helped usher in the Space Age.

Saturn as Seen from Titan
Artwork copyright © Bonestell Space Art, used with permission

Bonestell began his career as an architect and architectural artist, contributing to the design of the Golden Gate Bridge and New York's Chrysler Tower gargoyles. In 1938, at the age of 50, he moved to special effects matte painting, creating paintings for films such as Destination Moon (1950), When Worlds Collide (1951) and War of the Worlds (1953). Always fascinated by astronomy, Bonestell began to create astronomical art that appeared in major magazines including Life and Scientific American. From 1947 onwards his space paintings were used as cover illustrations for Astounding Science-Fiction (12 covers) and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (38 covers); he became a favourite of sf fans in this period. He showed great attention to correctness of perspective and scale in conformity with the scientific knowledge of the day, and some of his moon paintings, for example, were truly prophetic in their accuracy. But, more than that, his work held great beauty and drama in its stillness and depth. Many book lovers of the post-WW II generation can trace back their fascination for space exploration as much to Bonestell's paintings as to their reading of either science or sf.

It was during this time that Bonestell created what is arguably the most famous space painting, "Saturn as Seen from Titan," which has been credited with inspiring the careers of countless astronomers, scientists and artists. Hundreds of astronomical paintings followed, of which the first series was collected in the best-selling book Conquest of Space (1949). Bonestell was a major contributor, along with Fred Freeman and Rolf Klep, to a Collier's Magazine series devoted to spaceflight. Today these magazines are highly prized by collectors.

Bonestell received a bronze medal from the British Interplanetary Society, a Special Achievement Hugo Award, and was inducted into the International Space Hall of Fame. The Chesley Award for achievement in science fiction and fantasy art is named for him.

Selected Bibliography:
The Conquest of Space (1949)
Across the Space Frontier (1952)
The Conquest of the Moon (1953)
The World We Live In (1955)
The Exploration of Mars (1956)
Man and the Moon (1961)
Rocket to the Moon (1961)
The Solar System (1961)
Beyond the Solar System (1964)
Mars (1964)
Beyond Jupiter (1972)
The Golden Era of the Missions (1974)
A Chesley Bonestell Space Art Chronology (1999)
The Art of Chesley Bonestell (2001)
Courtesy of the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, Copyright © John Clute and Peter Nicholls 1993, 1999, published by Orbit, an imprint of the Time Warner Book Group UK.