Today would have marked Chesley Bonestell’s 127th birthday.
Throughout the 1930s Bonestell worked as both an architect and a movie matte painter on high profile projects ranging from New York’s Chrysler building and San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, to Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane and George Pal’s War of the Worlds. But it is astronomical art where Bonestell is best known and revered.
His first astronomical paintings were published in the 1940s—a series of astoundingly realistic images of Saturn as seen from its moons for Life magazine. In the 1950s, Wernher von Braun asked Bonestell to conceptualize near future space flight, and Viking Books collected a series of his paintings about lunar expeditions called The Conquest of the Moon. These images helped inspire a nation to strive toward the stars.
Vincent di Fate, in his encyclopedia of science fiction artists, Infinite Worlds, says:
“Chesley Bonestell spoke to us with such commanding authority that it doesn’t occur to us to question what our eyes behold….No one before or since has quite created works so evocative of the vast enigmatic beauty of outer space.”
Bonestell has been honored with many awards, including induction into the Illustrators Hall of Fame and the Science Fiction Hall of Fame; both an asteroid and a crater on Mars bear his name, and the Association of Science Fiction and Fantasy Artists annual awards are affectionately called “The Chesleys.”
This post originally appeared January 1, 2012 on Tor.com.
Irene Gallo is the Creative Director for Tor.com and Art Director for Tor Books.