Born in San Francisco in 1888, Chesley Bonestell was a visionary who studied architecture at Columbia University in New York. One of his early jobs was to help design the facade of the city's Chrysler Building, which quite appropriately looks like a giant spaceship ready to blast off into space.
In the 1930s, Bonestell painted special effects mattes in Hollywood, working on films like Citizen Kane and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. But he had always dabbled in space art and sold a set of paintings of an imaginary journey to Saturn to Life magazine, which paid him $30,000 -- a fortune in those days.
The jewel of the series was a view of Saturn from its moon Titan, a work of art that has been so inspiring to artists, sci fi writers, astronomers, rocket scientists and anyone else connected to the world of space travel that it's been dubbed, "the painting that launched a thousand careers."
Back in Tinseltown, Bonestell helped movie producer George Pal win a special effects Academy Award for the 1950 film Destination Moon, and he later worked on sci fi classics including War of the Worlds, Conquest of Space and When Worlds Collide.
Along with cosmic landscapes, Bonestell painted scenes of space exploration on the moon, Mars and beyond, as well as spacecraft resembling the multi-stage rockets that would transport man beyond the realm of his own planet.
Wernher von Braun, the German rocketry genius and chief architect of the massive Saturn V booster that catapulted men to the moon, wrote about Bonestell: "My file cabinet is filled with sketches of rocket ships I had prepared to help him in his artwork -- only to have them returned to me with penetrating detailed questions or blistering criticism of some inconsistency or oversight."
Like Merlin the magician of Camelot, Bonestell seemed to be living backwards in time. He had an uncanny sense of what alien landscapes looked like and the design of the vehicles that hadn't been invented yet. Bonestell died in 1987, at the ripe age of 99. But his art and influence continues to delight and inspire.
"Chesley Bonestell's pictures are far more than beautiful, etherial paintings of worlds beyond," praised von Braun. "They present the most accurate portrayal of those faraway heavenly bodies that modern science can offer."
All images have a Chesley Bonestell copyright by Bonestell Space Art and are used with permission
Saturn As Seen From Titan
The Surface of Mercury
Conquest of Space
Saturn As Seen From Mimas
The Exploration of Mars
For more about the Father of Modern Space Art, hop on the spaceship for a ride to the Chesley Bonestell Archives
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