Chesley Bonestell
Chesley Bonestell, 1977

Artist Chesley Bonestell has been referred as the “father of modern space art” or the “grand master of astronomical artists.” Many renowned scientists often cite science fiction as major sources of inspiration, and Chesley Bonestell’s illustrations did the same. His paintings take viewers to far-off destinations and influenced the worlds of both science fiction and space exploration. We’re going to look at the works of Chesley Bonestell as today’s Throwback Thursday, a column where ScienceFiction.com looks back on the classics.

Born in San Francisco in 1888, Bonestell stated that at age 17 he saw Saturn through a 12-inch refractor at the Lick Observatory in San Jose. He immediately returned home and painted what he saw. After studying architecture, working as a designer, and creating matte paintings for the sets of movies including ‘Citizen Kane,’ Bonestell returned to his love of astronomy and began creating space art.

Bonestell’s popularity rose in 1944 when ‘Life’ magazine published his paintings of Saturn. More of his paintings appeared in national magazines and were later compiled in the best-selling book, ‘The Conquest of Space’ (1949). Bonestell was brought on to help with the special effects on a number of famous science fiction movies, including ‘Destination Moon’ (1950), ‘The War of the Worlds’ (1953) and ‘Conquest of Space’ (1955).

Bonestell also designed covers for science fiction magazines including ‘Astounding Science Fiction’ and ‘The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction’.

He went on to work with rocket scientist Wernher von Braun designing concepts for space travel for the ‘Collier’s’ series “Man Will Conquer Space Soon!”(1952-54). This series proved integral in the push to make manned space exploration a reality.

Enjoy taking a look at Bonestell’s work below.

Images reproduced courtesy of Bonestell LLC.

Saturn as seen from Mimas, 1944
Saturn as seen from Mimas, 1944
Saturn as seen from Titan, 1944
Saturn as seen from Titan, 1944
Lunar Base, 1947
Lunar Base, 1947
The Surface of Mercury, 1949
The Surface of Mercury, 1949
Beta Lyrae, 1960
Beta Lyrae, 1960