Chesley Bonestell

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Chesley Bonestell
BornChesley Knight Bonestell Jr.[1]
(1888-01-01)January 1, 1888
San Francisco, California USA
DiedJune 11, 1986(1986-06-11) (aged 98)
Carmel, California USA
SubjectScience, science fiction, space
Notable awardsKlumpke-Roberts Award (1976)
Mary Hilton
(m. 1911⁠–⁠1918)
(m. 1920; died 1938)
Mary Hilton
(m. 1940⁠–⁠1961)
Hulda von Neumayer Ray
(m. 1962)
ChildrenJane Bonestell (1912–1989)

Chesley Knight Bonestell Jr. (January 1, 1888 – June 11, 1986) was an American painter, designer, and illustrator.[2] His paintings inspired the American space program, and they have been (and remain) influential in science fiction art and illustration. A pioneering creator of astronomical art, along with the French astronomer-artist Lucien Rudaux, Bonestell has been dubbed the "Father of Modern Space art".

Life and career[edit]

Early years[edit]

Bonestell was born January 1, 1888,[3] in San Francisco, California, to Chesley Knight Bonestell and his wife, Jovita (née Ferrer). Jovita was a daughter of Manuel Y. Ferrer, a prominent Spanish-American musician.[3]

Young Chesley attended Clement Grammar School, Dickensen's Academy, and St. Ignatius College, and George Bates University School. After graduating in 1904, he worked for his grandfather, Louis H. Bonestell, at the Bonestell Paper Company. For the next three years, he attended evening classes at the Hopkins Art Institute.[3]

His first astronomical painting was done in 1905. After seeing Saturn through the 12-inch (300 mm) telescope at San Jose's Lick Observatory, he rushed home to paint what he had seen. The painting was destroyed in the fire that followed the 1906 earthquake. Between 1915 and 1918, he exhibited lithographs in the 4th and 7th annual exhibitions of the California Society of Etchers (now the California Society of Printmakers) in San Francisco.

Bonestell enrolled as an undergraduate at Columbia University in New York City in 1907, adopting an architecture major. Dropping out in June 1910,[3] he worked as a renderer and designer for several of the leading architectural firms of the time, including the firm of Willis Polk, "The Man Who Rebuilt San Francisco."[4]

Bonestell moved to England in 1920, where he rendered architectural subjects for the Illustrated London News.[5] He returned to New York in 1926. While with William van Alen, he and Warren Straton designed the art deco façade of the Chrysler Building as well as its distinctive eagles. During this same period, he designed the Plymouth Rock Memorial, the U.S. Supreme Court Building, the New York Central Building, Manhattan office and apartment buildings and several state capitols.[6]

Returning to the West Coast, he prepared illustrations of the chief engineer's plans for the Golden Gate Bridge for the benefit of funders. In the late 1930s he moved to Hollywood, where he worked (without screen credit) as a special effects artist, creating matte paintings for films, including The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), Citizen Kane (1941) and The Magnificent Ambersons (1942).[citation needed]


Bonestell's first cover for Galaxy Science Fiction (Feb 1951), The Tying Down of a Spaceship on Mars in Desert Sandstorm

Bonestell then realized that he could combine what he had learned about camera angles, miniature modeling, and painting techniques with his lifelong interest in astronomy. The result was a series of paintings of Saturn as seen from several of its moons that was published in Life in 1944. Nothing like these had ever been seen before: they looked as though photographers had been sent into space. His painting "Saturn as Seen from Titan"[7] is perhaps the most famous astronomical landscape ever, and is nicknamed "the painting that launched a thousand careers."[8] It was constructed with a combination of clay models, photographic tricks and various painting techniques. (Titan has a thick haze; such a view is probably not possible in reality.)

Bonestell followed up the sensation these paintings created by publishing more paintings in many leading national magazines. These and others were eventually collected in the best-selling book The Conquest of Space (1949), produced in collaboration with author Willy Ley. Bonestell's last work in Hollywood was contributing special effects art and technical advice to the seminal science fiction films produced by George Pal, including Destination Moon, When Worlds Collide, The War of the Worlds and Conquest of Space, as well as Cat-Women of the Moon. Beginning with the October 1947 issue of Astounding Science Fiction, Bonestell painted more than 60 cover illustrations for science fiction magazines, primarily The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, in the 1950s through 1970s. He also illustrated many book covers.[1]

When Wernher von Braun organized a space flight symposium for Collier's, he invited Bonestell to illustrate his concepts for the future of spaceflight. For the first time, spaceflight was shown to be a matter of the near future. Von Braun and Bonestell showed that it could be accomplished with the technology then existing in the mid-1950s, and that the question was that of money and will. Coming as they did at the beginning of the Cold War and just before the sobering shock of the launch of Sputnik, the 1952–1954 Collier's series, "Man Will Conquer Space Soon!", was instrumental in kick-starting America's space program.

In 1986, Bonestell died in Carmel, California, with an unfinished painting on his easel.[9]


Bonestell Crater, as seen by HiRISE. Scale bar is 1000 meters long.

During his lifetime, Bonestell was honored internationally for the contributions he made to the birth of modern astronautics, from a bronze medal awarded by the British Interplanetary Society to a place in the International Space Hall of Fame[10] to an asteroid named for him. The Conquest of Space won the 1951 International Fantasy Award for nonfiction, one of the first two fantasy or science fiction awards anywhere, at the British SF Convention.[11] The Science Fiction Hall of Fame inducted Bonestell in 2005, the first year it considered non-literary contributors.[12][a]

His paintings are prized by collectors and institutions such as the National Air and Space Museum and the National Collection of Fine Arts. One of his classic paintings, an ethereally beautiful image of Saturn seen from its giant moon Titan, has been called "the painting that launched a thousand careers." Wernher von Braun wrote that he had "learned to respect, nay fear, this wonderful artist's obsession with perfection. My file cabinet is filled with sketches of rocket ships I had prepared to help in his artwork—only to have them returned to me with...blistering criticism."

Additionally, Bonestell Crater on the planet Mars, and the asteroid 3129 Bonestell are named after him.

In 2017, the first ever album of Sun Ra vocal tracks was released, The Space Age Is Here to Stay, featuring sleeve art authorized by the Bonestell estate.[14]

Books illustrated by Bonestell[edit]

  • Ley, Willy (1949), The Conquest of Space (Chesley Bonestell, Illustrator)
  • Across the Space Frontier (1952)
  • Braun, Wernher von; Fred Lawrence Whipple; Willy Ley (1953) [1952 (Collier's Man on the Moon)]. Cornelius Ryan (ed.). Conquest of the Moon. Illustrated by Chesley Bonestell, Fred Freeman, Rolf Klep. New York: The Viking Press. Illustrations by Chesley Bonestell:
    • Constructing the moonships in the space station's orbit (endpapers)
    • The space station (p. 11)
    • Spaceships coming in for a landing on the Moon (p. 63)
    • Landing on the Moon (p. 67)
    • Unloading the cargo ship on the Moon (pp. 76–77)
    • Exploration convoy crossing lunar plain (p. 101)
    • Take-off from the Moon (p 115)
  • Heuer, Kenneth (1953), The End of the World (Chesley Bonestell, Illustrator) (Reprinted and revised in 1957 as The Next Fifty Billion Years: An Astronomer's Glimpse into the Future, Viking Press)
  • 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)
  • The Art of Chesley Bonestell, Ron Miller, Paper Tiger, (2001) ISBN 978-1855858848
  • Project Mars: A Technical Tale (2006)

Films with artwork by Bonestell (abbreviated list)[edit]


Bonestell appeared in the documentary The Fantasy Film Worlds of George Pal (1985) (Produced and directed by Arnold Leibovit). A documentary about his life, Chesley Bonestell: A Brush with the Future, was produced in 2018.

Popular culture references[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ After inducting 36 fantasy and science fiction writers and editors from 1996 to 2004, the hall of fame dropped "fantasy" and made non-literary contributors eligible. Alongside one writer, the first three were Bonestell in the "Art" category, "dynamation" animator Ray Harryhausen, and filmmaker Steven Spielberg.[12][13]



  1. ^ a b Chesley Bonestell at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (ISFDB). Retrieved April 8, 2013.
  2. ^ Chesley Bonestell (Photograph by Cedric Braun.) Archived March 1, 2010, at the Wayback Machine Chesley Bonestell Memorial Lecture Series, Each year, the Monterey Institute for Research in Astronomy presents a lecture for the general public supported by funds from the Chesley Bonestell Memorial Lecture Endowment. – Monterey Institute for Research in Astronomy
  3. ^ a b c d Scheutz, Melvin H. (1999). A Chesley Bonestell Space Art Chronology. Parkland, Fla.: Universal Publishers. p. xxix. ISBN 9781581128291.
  4. ^ Miller, Ron; Durant III, Frederick C. (2001). The Art of Chesley Bonestell. London: Collins and Brown Limited. pp. 15–20. ISBN 1-85585-905-X.
  5. ^ Miller, Ron; Durant III, Frederick C. (2001). The Art of Chesley Bonestell. London: Collins and Brown Limited. p. 23. ISBN 1-85585-905-X.
  6. ^ Chesley Bonestell Chronology Archived June 24, 2008, at the Wayback Machine, By Melvin H. Schuetz, 1999, Parkland Florida, ISBN 1-58112-829-0
  7. ^ Saturn as Seen from Titan Archived May 27, 2010, at the Wayback Machine, (1944)
  8. ^ Miller, Ron; Durant III, Frederick C. (2001). The Art of Chesley Bonestell. London: Collins and Brown Limited. p. 47. ISBN 1-85585-905-X.
  9. ^ OBITUARIES : Blended Astronomy and Art : Painter Chesley Bonestell, 98, Dies Archived April 13, 2014, at the Wayback MachineLos Angeles Times
  10. ^ Inductee Profile: Chesley K. Bonestell USA, Inducted in 1989 Archived July 7, 2010, at the Wayback Machine, International Space Hall of Fame
  11. ^ "Bonestell, Chesley" Archived October 16, 2012, at the Wayback Machine. The Locus Index to SF Awards: Index of Art Nominees. Locus Publications. Retrieved April 9, 2013.
  12. ^ a b "It's Official! Inductees Named for 2005 Hall of Fame Class". Archived from the original on March 26, 2005. Retrieved August 30, 2016.. Press release March 24, 2005. Science Fiction Museum ( Archived March 26, 2005. Retrieved March 22, 2013.
  13. ^ "Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame" Archived May 21, 2013, at the Wayback Machine. Mid American Science Fiction and Fantasy Conventions, Inc. Retrieved April 9, 2013. This was the official website of the hall of fame to 2004.
  14. ^ Grady, Spencer (August 6, 2016). "Sun Ra Vinyl Salvos Ready For Blast Off". Jazz Wise Magazine. Archived from the original on November 10, 2016. Retrieved October 11, 2016.
  15. ^ Chesley Bonestell: A Brush with the Future

Other sources[edit]

  • Miller, Ron and Frederick C. Durant III (1983), Worlds Beyond: The Art of Chesley Bonestell, Walsworth Pub Co ISBN 978-0-89865-195-9
  • Miller, Ron and Frederick C. Durant III (2001), The Art of Chesley Bonestell (Foreword by Melvin H. Schuetz), Paper Tiger ISBN 978-1-85585-884-8
  • Schuetz, Melvin H. (1999), Chesley Bonestell Space Art Chronology, Universal Publishers ISBN 978-1-58112-829-1
  • Schuetz, Melvin H. (2003), Supplement to A Chesley Bonestell Space Art Chronology ISBN 978-1581128291.
  • Tuck, Donald H., ed. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy Volumes 1 and 2. Chicago: Advent Publications, Inc., 1974.

External links[edit]