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Chesley Bonestell - Legends of SF Art vol.3

Updated on January 8, 2015
Saturn as seen from Titan  (Reproduced courtesy of Bonestell LLC)
Saturn as seen from Titan (Reproduced courtesy of Bonestell LLC)
Portrait of Chesley Bonestell (Courtesy of Cedric Braun)
Portrait of Chesley Bonestell (Courtesy of Cedric Braun)


Famous for his astronomical paintings, Chesley Bonestell was born in San Francisco in 1888.

At 12 years old he had won many school prizes for his artwork and was given permission to start serious art instruction, Sadly the great earthquake of 1906 would not only destroy the house he lived in but also all of Bonestell’s earliest drawings and paintings.

He worked as a designer for prominent San Francisco architect Willis Polk and helped design many famous landmarks.

He married Mary Hilton in 1911 and in 1918 he moved to New York, where he worked as an architectural designer and renderer.

In 1922, Bonestell moved to London, where he worked for the Illustrated London News, creating renderings of famous buildings and other landmarks for the magazine.

In 1927 he returned to the United States where he continued working on architectural projects, including the design of the Chrysler Building and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Detail of space station (Reproduced courtesy of Bonestell LLC)
Detail of space station (Reproduced courtesy of Bonestell LLC)

In 1938, he began working as a matte artist for Hollywood studios, he contributed matte paintings to many classic films, including Citizen Kane, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Magnificent Ambersons. He eventually became the highest-paid matte artist in Hollywood.

In the early 1940s Bonestell began painting a series of space illustrations, many of which were published in Life magazine. The paintings combined technical realism and a stunning photographic technique learned during his work as a matte artist.

Bonestell specialized in astronomical art for the rest of his career. His most notable achievements were artwork for ten books on space science, including the influential The Conquest of Space (1949). Many of these paintings were later printed as covers for science fiction magazines. One of his most popular paintings “Saturn as seen from Titan” (1944) is perhaps the most famous work of astronomical art ever produced.

Baby satellite - Fueling a rocket for the firing of an artificial satellite (Reproduced courtesy of Bonestell LLC)
Baby satellite - Fueling a rocket for the firing of an artificial satellite (Reproduced courtesy of Bonestell LLC)

In the early 1950’s his collaboration on a series of spaceflight articles in Collier magazine was considered an important influence on the evolution of the American space program. He also painted several large murals, the most outstanding of which was a 40-foot-wide depiction of the surface of the moon for the Boston Museum of Science (the painting now resides in the National Air & Space Museum).

In 1950 Bonestell contributed preproduction art and matte paintings for George Pal’s Destination Moon. He worked again with Pal on the films When Worlds Collide (1951), War of the Worlds (1953) and Conquest of Space (1955).

Bonestell won the Special Achievement Hugo in 1974 and a Retro Hugo in 2004 for Best Artist of 1953. The Association of Science Fiction and Fantasy Artists (ASFA) established a peer award in 1985 to recognize individual works and achievements during a given year, it was re-named the “Chesley” in 1986 to honour Bonestell after his death in that year.

One of the most respected and famous space artists of all time, Chesley Bonestell died in 1986 aged 98, his career spanned the first century of the history of aviation and spaceflight.

A Martian crater and the asteroid 3129 Bonestell are named after him.

Ship ready for return trip / aka Exploring the moon (Reproduced courtesy of Bonestell LLC)
Ship ready for return trip / aka Exploring the moon (Reproduced courtesy of Bonestell LLC)
Assembling the Mars ship 1075 miles above the west coast of South America (Reproduced courtesy of Bonestell LLC)
Assembling the Mars ship 1075 miles above the west coast of South America (Reproduced courtesy of Bonestell LLC)
Space station, ferry rocket and telescope 1075 miles above Central America (Reproduced courtesy of Bonestell LLC)
Space station, ferry rocket and telescope 1075 miles above Central America (Reproduced courtesy of Bonestell LLC)
The surface of Mercury (Reproduced courtesy of Bonestell LLC)
The surface of Mercury (Reproduced courtesy of Bonestell LLC)
Mars seen from Deimos, its farthest moon (Reproduced courtesy of Bonestell LLC)
Mars seen from Deimos, its farthest moon (Reproduced courtesy of Bonestell LLC)
Exploring the moon by Earthlight (Reproduced courtesy of Bonestell LLC)
Exploring the moon by Earthlight (Reproduced courtesy of Bonestell LLC)
Saturn as seen from Mimas (Reproduced courtesy of Bonestell LLC)
Saturn as seen from Mimas (Reproduced courtesy of Bonestell LLC)

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    • Steve Lensman profile image
      Author

      Steve Lensman 7 years ago from London, England

      Conanson, Mentalist, thanks for the comments.

      I mentioned Bonestell a couple of times in my film hubs so I thought why not give him his own hub? :)

      I can't see which picture Acer is referring to, Jupiter's horizon?

    • Cogerson profile image

      UltimateMovieRankings 7 years ago from Virginia

      Thanks for sharing all this information on Mr. Bonestell. I was glad to read that he lived long enough to see the moon landing...as usually you have selected awesome artwork that shows the genius behind the man.....really cool that he has A Martian crater and the asteroid 3129 Bonestell named in his honor...voted up.

    • Mentalist acer profile image

      Mentalist acer 7 years ago from A Voice in your Mind!

      The Jupiter horizon of what looks like Mars is awesome.;)

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